They say an artist has to die to become really famous, but in that they’re dead wrong. Or they are if by ‘really famous’ you mean able to attract people to a gallery in their tens of thousands to see your work and not have them leave again until they’ve coughed up for a ticket, a catalogue and a £4 scone in the cafe.

Sure, the year’s global blockbuster was an exhibition at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum devoted to the work of a long-dead artist, Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer. And yes, with visitor numbers in excess of 650,000, its success is unparalleled.

But Scotland in 2023 has hosted two blockbuster exhibitions of its own. These were by living artists whose work requires little in the way of art-speak contextualising, and which demonstrate that if you choose well and/or have luck on your side, you can engage with a wide audience. Wider than is usual for the art world, anyway.

Two months on from the final kissing policemen stencil being packed away and the stab vest disappearing into a bubble wrap cocoon, Banky’s summer sojourn in Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) may feel like a fever dream. It wasn’t. It really happened, thanks to an obstinate traffic cone and a decision made by the artist himself.

The show pulled in 180,000 visitors over the course of its 10 week run, dropped a financial windfall into the city coffers estimated at around £12 million, and proved a much-needed reputational fillip for GoMA itself.

At the other end of the M8, in Edinburgh’s grand Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) building, you’ll still find the aptly-named Grayson Perry: Smash Hits. It’s a retrospective of the work of the Turner Prize winning potter, though these days you could also add cultural commentator, textile designer and national-treasure-in-waiting to his CV. Turn on a telly and he’s there, talking about class or taste or masculinity, in terms and in language which are entirely understandable to most people.

Smash Hits opened in late July, pulled in 10,000 visitors in its first couple of weeks and is still proving so popular that the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) this week announced extended opening hours for its final weekend in November.

Total visitor numbers aren’t available yet, but with ticket prices topping out at £19, Grayson Perry tote bags running to £38, GP-branded shortbread tins costing £15 and a £24.99 exhibition catalogue on offer, the other sound to be heard in the RSA’s hallowed halls this autumn besides the footsteps of the visitors is the one that goes: ker-ching.

“It has been a privilege to see the excitement and enthusiasm shown towards Grayson Perry: Smash Hits since it opened in the summer,” said NGS director-general Sir John Leighton as he announced the extended opening hours. “With thousands of visitors pouring through the doors every week, the demand for Sir Grayson Perry’s inspiring body of work is evident.”

If it’s possible to grin in a press release, Sir John manages it there.

It’s heartening that people will spend time and money on gallery-going as a leisure activity, and easy to see that by even the most rudimentary sort of osmosis – reading the labels next to the art works, say – they are learning something, being forced to question assumptions, or being culturally enriched in some way. Maybe all three.

But how do you take that enthusiam and apply it across the board? If you make a first trip to GOMA or the RSA, are you then going to sample the art on offer at Glasgow’s Modern Institute, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, or Dundee Contemporary Arts? Or is there one rule for blockbuster artists (dead or alive) and one rule for everyone else?

Maybe relateability is the key. Some artists have it, some don’t. Sir Grayson is a former winner of the UK’s top art accolade (“It’s about time a transvestive potter won the Turner Prize” he quipped famously when he triumphed in 2003) but 20 years on from his win, few other recipients have achieved the same purchase on the public imagination.

Of those who have, it isn’t always for the best of reasons. Close to the RSA in Edinburgh, hard by the Fruitmarket Gallery, you’ll find Martin Creed’s wonderful Work No. 1059, a series of coloured marble inserts on the Scotsman Steps which lead from the North Bridge to Market Street. But for many in the ‘modern art is rubbish’ camp his Turner Prize winning Work No. 227 – a light going on and off in an empty room – is a nadir.

This year’s Turner Prize shortlist doesn’t have anything as potentially notorious or easy to ridicule (if mocking conceptual art is your bag), though with Jesse Darling’s handmade tinfoil ‘paper’ aeroplanes or Ghislaine Leung’s shelf of plastic toys in mind someone could make a decent fist of it should they want to try. But even where the artists’ work speaks to big issues (see Rory Pilgrim’s collaborative, pandemic-related work, or Barbara Walker’s focus on racial identity and the Windrush scandal) the Turner Prize exhibition which recently opened in Eastbourne is nobody’s idea of a blockbuster.

If you accept that aspects of art and artistic practice are necessarily rarefied or specialist in some way, then perhaps this disconnect is inevitable. If you don’t – and I’ll bet neither Sir Grayson Perry of Banksy do – then the makers of art should not limit their audience to critics, conoisseurs, collectors or curators. They need to address the wider public and find means of expression that resonate with the public. Easy to say, I know. Much harder to do. But it’s the ones who can manage it that we’ll queue through the night to see.