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Playing to the Gallery – Grayson Perry

Oct 8, 2014

by Natalie Wall handmade and vintage goods

How does the stuff we see in art galleries or the middle of roundabouts come to be made and valued?

Drawing (LOL!) on his life as an artist in his new illustrated handbook, Playing to the Gallery, Grayson Perry explores the boundaries and tensions at the heart of modern art (featuring Grayson’s colourful and satirical ‘Purple Ronnie’ style artwork throughout).

grayson perry playing to the gallery book cover


Playing to the Gallery Grayson Perry book

Grayson Perry

Playing to the Gallery Grayson Perry book

Grayson Perry

From the troublesome topic of quality to the tricky question of what can or can’t be a work of art, Playing to the Gallery aims to demystify contemporary art and remove the inhibitions we may have about it. The text is closely based on last year’s Reith Lectures, a series of talks Perry gave at the Tate Modern.

“I firmly believe,” Perry writes at the start, “that anyone is eligible to enjoy art or become an artist–any oik, any prole, any citizen who has a vision they want to share.”

“Anybody can have a life in the arts – even me! For even I, an Essex transvestite potter, have been let in by the art world mafia.”

When describing the way the word “art” has come to be all-encompassing, he says:

“When I think of the sort of bag that art might be, it’s one of those very cheap dustbin liners – the ones that, when you drag them out of the dustbin and you’re walking towards the front door, you’re praying that all the rubbish won’t spill out all over the hall.”

Playing to the Gallery Grayson Perry book

Grayson Perry

We love his “handbag and hipster test” for judging whether or not something is a work of art:

“If there are lots of people with beards and glasses and single-speed bikes, or oligarchs’ wives with great big handbags looking a bit perturbed and puzzled by what they’re staring at, then it’s probably art.”

He certainly asks many important questions, like ‘what counts as art?’ and ‘why has that man pickled a shark?’ (maybe that’s our question) but we are not necessarily provided with definitive answers.

Still, Playing to the Gallery is a thought provoking, engaging and vibrant read, stripping away the pretentious highbrow veneer of the modern art world.

Playing to the Gallery Grayson Perry book illustrations

Grayson Perry

Perhaps the most pertinent point is made with Grayson’s discussion of children’s charity The Art Room: “When a child takes a decorated stool or lampshade back to a home that has little furniture and bare light bulbs, it must give them a sense of empowerment, that in a small way they have begun to change the world. Because, of course, art’s… most important role is to make meaning.”

Playing to the Gallery: Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood, published by Particular Books, is out now.

Want to get your hands on some accessible art? Come to OPEN, an exhibition of UK artists on (Oct 17th-19th 2014). Download the flyer for the art exhibition here and invite your friends and family!

1 Featured Comment

  • hurdyburdy

    Beverley Richmond from hurdyburdy said 5 years ago Featured

    Grayson Perry, utterly fab! Anyone who missed The Reith Lectures can still hear them on BBC iplayer, well worth a listen...


  • b00b00b00

    Anne Coogan from Lightflightlighting said 5 years ago

    I just love Grayson Perry .I love his fresh ,honest and unpretentious approach to art.

  • iFiglideiFiori

    iFiglideiFiori from iFiglideiFiori said 5 years ago


  • mail67

    Zerina from POPARTsculpture said 5 years ago

    Inspirational Grayson Perry

  • hurdyburdy

    Beverley Richmond from hurdyburdy said 5 years ago Featured

    Grayson Perry, utterly fab! Anyone who missed The Reith Lectures can still hear them on BBC iplayer, well worth a listen...

  • ohyouhandsomedevil

    Lucy Kenward from ohyouhandsomedevil said 5 years ago

    Grayson Perry has an incredible way of explaining Art without dumbing down or relying on trite Art-babble. His sense of humour and grounded modesty about his own artistic output is a breath of fresh air to the Art world. For anyone who is interested, I second the above suggestion to check out the Reith Lectures on the iplayer - in addition there is a 4od documentary about class and taste which is well worth watching and packed full of inspiration, wit and insight. :D

  • durido

    Mojca and Marko Dolinar from DURIDO said 5 years ago

    He is awesome!

  • callygooding

    callygooding from flowingforms said 5 years ago

    There is no doubt in my mind that the world would be a better place if we all worshipped Alan Measles (his teddy).

  • johnsilver2

    John Silver from JohnSilverFineArts said 5 years ago

    Grayson Perry is not only a "tell it like it is" character, but also a great artist. One of our true British Eccentrics and is a national treasure. When I grow up, I want to be an eccentric.....;)

  • BelieveToBeBeautiful

    Tracey from BelieveToBeBeautiful said 5 years ago

    Truly inspirational man - his ceramics are sublime! Also love his sense of fun. The picture of 'Zoe curating the fridge' is hilarious!! Will definitely listen to the lectures and find the book. Thanks for the blog.

  • iainwelch

    Iain Welch from LittleDogPrints said 5 years ago

    You have to love Grayson Perry. Wonderful potter, great spokesperson for art and design. Brilliant article

  • jewellerycurio

    Julie Randall from MyCloudCuckoo said 5 years ago

    Spot on!

  • SugarLipsGlass

    Sally from SugarLipsGlass said 5 years ago

    Do you think Grayson Perry is a National Treasue?!

  • maggieemery1

    maggie emery from crabtulip said 5 years ago

    A true original and his pots are fabulous! And now his is turning into a brilliant broadcaster - as others have said the Reith Lectures were incredible - can't wait for his Channel 4 programme.

  • PointyPix

    Nic McLean from NicseARTh said 5 years ago

    I just finished reading this book yesterday - my sister bought it as a gift after we spent a jaw dropping few hours at the Royal Academy Annual Exhibition in London in August - I am a firm believer that the art world is mainly about 'the emperor's new clothes' and this only served to reinforce that belief especially as it was written by a Turner Prize winner! He refers to artists who never went to art college (me) as 'outsider artists' saying it's near to impossible for us to ever make it in the art world (Jack Vettriano anyone?!) I enjoyed the way he poked fun at the whole establishment but it only served to confirm the notion that technical ability seems to be way down the list of what the art world consider saleable art.

  • OdesiaMay

    Pauline Tiley from OdesiaMayJewellery said 5 years ago

    He is a British institution (which he probably hates me for saying) but I can't help loving him to bits !

  • doodlemonger

    Roisin Cure from RoisinCure said 5 years ago

    I think Grayson Perry is extremely talented and skilled. He's clever, too, and I enjoyed his Reith lectures. But I do wish he'd stop emphasising the transvestite thing. Sure, it's how he got noticed, but I would hate to be known for a fetish first, my art second. So he wears cute colourful dresses, big deal! Can we move on now? By the way, Grayson, if you get to read this, you should check out urban sketching: utterly unpretentious, honest and real. And deeply satisfying to the soul.

  • GarnetLee

    Diane Higgins-Lee from SilverHares said 5 years ago

    Telling it like it is, with wit and a wry smile. I really like Grason Perrry .

  • jezdesigns

    Julie from jezdesigns said 5 years ago

    To be fair Roisin, the media grab onto his transvestism a lot- when you hear the Reith lectures the presenter who introduces him (Sue Lawley I think?) goes on about his outfits onthe first 2- but by the 3rd I think enough people had complained saying "it's about what he's saying not what he's wearing" that she stopped. So it's not always him...but yes he does point it out- in the context above he's saying if he can fit in so can anyone; I quite like that. There is a bit of a difference too, granted, between fine art and saleable art like wot we make on Etsy (well many of us) and he gets into that too; especially as pottery is often considered a "craft"- and as we all know that sometimes gets short shrift in the creativity and/or worthiness/ value and price stakes! Ironically, crafters have to have better technical skills it seems often. The blurry line between interesting art and just a load of badly-executed tosh is explored too, it's about ideas and intentions too...oh honestly, really it's best to listen and read- so much in there! And for that honest exploration I think he deserves our most heartfelt thanks :-)

  • Missflorijntje

    MARGIT VAN DER ZWAN from ArtyMargit said 5 years ago

    Grayson, son, I like you.

  • midoritakaki

    Midori from midoritakaki said 5 years ago

    I enjoy his talks so much! He says what lots of people think and feel, but don't dare to say! He is fresh air in the art world! : )

  • clairekamber

    Claire Kamber from mIrishDublin said 5 years ago

    Thank god people like Grayson Perry inhabit our world. Such an eloquent, delightful, inspirational, likeable character....and so much more.

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