Playing to the Gallery – Grayson Perry

So much has already been written about the excellent 2013 series of Reith lectures given by artist Grayson Perry, and what a breath of fresh air they have been. The artist while ‘lifting the lid’ on the sometimes seemingly impenetrable inner workings of the contemporary art world, did so with such a refreshing honesty and with a good dose of humour along the way.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to them they are fabulous; I have listed the links for each lecture below. Here is a short passage from the final lecture I Found Myself in the Art World discussing the struggle of the artist which I found particularly thought-provoking and poignant.

“But anyway now we’ve been sort of chugging along in our art career for a while and we’ve somehow managed to keep that sort of burning, precious, childlike glimmer of creativity burning, people you know when I’m at a party, they ask me, “What do you do?” and I say, “Oh I’m an artist.” And they go, “It must be fun! What fun that must be – all that sculpting, pottery. Must be great fun!” (LAUGHTER) And I go, “Imagine this.” I say, “Imagine this. You know big museum, big museum. They’ve offered you an exhibition and there’s a big room there – open white room waiting for you to fill it. And in a year or two I’ve got to fill that with work and all the people are going to come and look at it, maybe loads and loads of thousands of people, and then all the press are going to come and they want to write about it and talk about it, and then I’ve got to sell it. I’ve got people – you know their reaction to it, my income depends on it. And also maybe the income of several other people you know working at the gallery or assistants or someone like that. And then on top of that, I’ve got to create it with a kind of carefree joy of a child.” (LAUGHTER) That’s quite … you know it’s quite a tricky act to pull off. Art’s quite a serious business really.

But one thing that I’m glad about is that you know in sort of kicking the can down the road of my career, I have kind of found myself I suppose, you know, and that’s a beautiful thing that the art world has given me. I think all artists carry within them in a way this sort of glowing, indistinct ball of their creative energy. Then they nurse it through the assault course of the art world and it’s quite difficult to talk about because it’s a very tender thing – you know what keeps you going, what keeps you making year after year. It’s a delicate organism and the art world can be very corrosive. Caustic atmosphere. I protect my ball of creative energy, I protect it with a shield made of jaded irony.  A helmet of mischief and a breast plate of facetiousness. And I wield my carefully crafted blade of cynicism. Because the part of me I want is so … it’s too vulnerable, I can’t expose it. It’s quite delicate.”
(Grayson Perry: Excerpt from the fourth Reith lecture I Found Myself in the Art World November 2013)

1/4 Democracy Has Bad Taste http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt

2/4 Beating the Bounds http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03dsk4d

3/4 Nice Rebellion, Welcome In! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03f9bg7

4/4 I Found Myself in the Art World http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03g9mn1

This short film by Tateshots provides a tiny glimpse into the studio practice of Grayson Perry.

As an artist chugging around the cycle of making, showing, rejections followed by self-doubt and then going round again I found the openness of this series of lectures to be inspiring and up-lifting. The first lectures do open up the workings of the art world to those who are less familiar with the current gallery scene and the power of the curators and gallerists, good and bad. Artists listening to these lectures, particularly to the last will recognise only too well the struggle and sheer determination needed to continue to create, come what may along with the bloody hard work and hours required, never to be overlooked.

I hope you find them to be as inspiring.

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