Contextual Study Point 11: Grayson Perry

I didn’t know much about Grayson Perry. I know that he was a very well known artist but I was also put off by him. I am weary of his extravagant outer shell and I feel that, actually what was discussed in his lectures as the reason art becomes popular, is the reason he has become famous. He was noticed by one person and then it grew and grew until he became a famous artist. I feel like he has become more popular because in the art world because it has become ‘cool’ to ‘know’ him.

Grayson Perry is a contemporary British artist best known for his ceramic vessels, printed tapestries, and design for A House for Essex. His work contains a prominent autobiographical narrative which often features his alter ego, Claire. The narrative chronicles a troubled childhood in which Perry turned to transvestism to find solace. “I draw as a collagist, juxtaposing images and styles of mark-making from many sources,” he said of his practice. “The world I draw is the interior landscape of my personal obsessions and of cultures I have absorbed and adapted, from Latvian folk art to Japanese screens.” (artnet, 2018)

Notes I gathered from his series of lectures named ‘Playing to the Gallery’:

Lecture 1, Democracy has bad taste:

  • beauty. Beauty is based on aesthetic value
  • What determines something as beautiful?
  • Beauty is a constructed thing
  • Imperial measure of art is the market. People buying it puts a price on it
  • The only reason art exists anymore is because its a load of cash sitting on the wall
  • Opposite view – ‘art for art sake’
  • Art will always be tied to money
  • An artists big painting is not necessarily their best
  • A painting that has been validated
  • Who validates art? – critic / teachers / dealers / curators / the media
  • Curators think if its gallery worthy
  • Lots of language babbling. Some may say you have to understand what you’ve read to understand the art but you don’t – in my opinion can you not just create your own understanding?!
  • Judging art by these artists seeing them as luxury goods
  • If enough of the right people like your work than your set
  • If democracy has bad taste, for what do you account for your success?
  • What contemporary art do you like? A lot of rubbish
  • Popular being a horror word – how art ends up in galleries is not by public vote its by important art people. A consensus gradually forms (like I believe it has for grayson, we are in a more accepting world now that ‘anything is art’)
  • If a curator likes your work and wants it in their gallery thats going to do wonders for your career
  • If the young ready people start to life it – it starts to be fashionable
  • Curators most influential people in class of validaters
  • From a curators point of view Damien Hirst’s shark – realisation: one sense it had an idea rom physical form that encapsulates a particular moment but also about the life cycle of not just of a flower but as a metaphor for human life – profound
  • In your personal view was the shark good? – its the curse of the mona lisa effect

(The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Democracy has bad taste, 2013)

Lecture 2, Beating the bounds:

  • What do and do not qualify as art?
  • Grayson does agree that anything can be art but there are limits/ boundaries that are blurred – they might be tribal, sociological, economic, philosophical
  • Duchamp – anything can be art. Urinal. Arrogant. Intellectual art
  • When you look at a piece of art on the wall in the gallery and say ‘that worth £2 million’ it stops being art
  • Philosopher George Dickie ‘art work is a candidate for contemplation or appreciation’
  • Arthur Danto (philosopher) ‘An artwork is about something, has a point of view, style and uses rhetorical ellipsis (engages the audience to make sense of the art) and needs a historical context’
  • Boundary marker:
  • is it in a gallery or an art context
  • Is it a boring version of something else
  • Is it made by an artist
  • Photography – staging
  • Limited edition
  • Handbag and hipster
  • The rubbish dump test – made me think of an artist I studied when at university called Thomas Hirrschorn
  • Computer art
  • Q & A at end of lecture:
  • Q: has art got a future? A: there is a danger art will disappear into the web and social media. Might be when into everyday life. He likes the art and content of an idea to have to go and see art
  • Q: Do you feel we’re loosing the skill and feel that the idea is only important now? A: might be loosing traditional skills but other ideas are coming along all the time
  • I want to keep the creativity alive. The real world diminishes all those dreams
  • Q: Picasso quote ‘all children are artists. The problem is keeping them artists’ the idea of creativity is key and would like to know your feelings on this. A: truth in that comment about relaxation, freedom, one great enemy is self consciousness. As you grow older you become more conscious of your conscious. To address and work in the contemporary art world you are aware of the audience, the value, it kills you. The more successful you become the more pressure of self consciousness. He was right in many ways but you also cant be an innocent in the art world. You have to address the self consciousness, the history, the context. – my thoughts were, do you? Why cant we be like kids? Why do we have to grow up? Why is society the way it is? Why do we have norms and values to follow?

(The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Beating the Bounds, 2013)

Lecture 3, Nice Rebellion, Welcome In:

  • Cave painting story
  • ‘art has reached its final stage’ – by this its not that is going to be over, its more ‘anything can be art’ stage
  • ‘art is in its end state’
  • ‘anything goes’ but there are limits
  • The shock of art
  • ‘certainty freaks’ art that moved from one periods/movement to another. Perry doesn’t believe this is so. There is a cross over in art periods.
  • Pluralism – anything goes
  • Globalism – all over the world now
  • Commercialism
  • Everyone has a bit of ‘edge’ in them from the art world now. Things that were weird have now been accepted.
  • More people are looking more ‘arty’ – taste. trend. Capitalism. Investment
  • Commodification. Hear people moaning the art has become a moment making thing
  • Outrage has become domesticated
  • Gentrification (i looked it up: the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

“an area undergoing rapid gentrification”

  • the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite.”football has undergone gentrification”)
  • Use of technology – fulfil this idea of anybody can be an artist
  • Line in a world of creative capital
  • No avant-garde anymore
  • Live in a globalised pluralistic art world with lots of money sloshing around it
  • Most of it is rubbish, some of it is amazing
  • Sincerity in the art world
  • Q & A:
  • Q: if we are now in a world of art that is unshockable, what is the role of the artist? A: you make your own career as an artist and choose what you want to do: it might be to make Monet, it might be to prove a political point, it might be a particular challenge
  • There is no single rule. Art can be lots of different things it doesn’t have to be just shocking
  • Q: thoughts on health benefits of art and process on making the art rather than the end product (I would have asked this question if I was there. I am keen to follow the direction of an arts therapist) A: art does have a very powerful thing that it can offer you. When you get involved making something you sometimes forget yourself. Also in little ways you are affecting the world. If you feel powerless or depressed, if you are making something you are in a small way changing the world – you have that power, that opportunity, also art gives people a way to talk about their problems sometimes without them even realising. Get it out of their system.

(The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Nice Rebellion, Welcome in, 2013)

Lecture 4, I Found Myself in the Art World:

  • Wants to answer, how do we become a contemporary artist?
  • Human mind has ability to transform terrible events into art
  • Noble journey
  • Joseph Beuys in WW2. He was found injured by a tribe who used fat and felt to keep him warm. Fat and felt are now key materials in his sculptures
  • Mythologise your past
  • Art when growing up is serious play
  • Art can help children deal with issues
  • Arts primary role – meaning making
  • Ice age – still had time to make art
  • This need to express runs very eep
  • As we get older we still have hay urge but it is hard to access
  • ‘outsider artist’ Henry Darger – janitor. Spare time was always paintings. So driven to create he spent most of his income on magazine illustrations that he could trace because he didn’t think he was very good at drawing. Art gave him a rich life. His paintings are now sold for thousands.
  • Grayson talks about at age 16 he lost the ability to play, to loose myself. I remember feeling like this.
  • What do contemporary artists do all day? ‘they notice things’ – I agree. I have noticed so much more since drawing more. Taking time to step back, away from the world.
  • Going to art college
  • The study art is like study for advanced consciousness – am I doing the right thing? A totrtured necessity to enter the art world.
  • An art college is a place to: experiment / explore / be free / get it wrong / make mistakes
  • For the best artist it takes them quite a while to find their voice
  • Art career is a marathon
  • ‘stay on the bus’
  • Nobel thing to be is an artist
  • Pilgrim on the road to meaning
  • Perry asked a curator, ‘what do you look for in an artist?’ They said ‘commitment to being an artist. Artists are doers. Artists want to make art’
  • Tempted to churn out loads of work to make money (picasso napkin symptom) but it becomes fake – Marcel Duchamp quote
  • Duchamp quote: ‘abundant product will only conclude to mediocracy. Art is a refuge a place inside my head where I can go on my own. I can lose myself.
  • quote moving this last lecture!!!!!!!!
  • You have to let yourself go to be creative
  • Allow the ridiculous things to happen
  • Play
  • Be non-judgemental

(The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. I found myself in the art world, 2013)

These lectures crossed over a bit with my research and reading for my other unit, Understanding Visual Culture. It was good to listen to something that I could relate to a little more and it was easy enough to understand. His lectures used a lot of metaphorical explanation which helped with my understanding but also made it difficult to make notes on. Now that I have found out more about Perry I feel that I may have been quick to judge in the past. A lot of what he said resonates with my own understanding and my own thoughts about the art world but some points I wanted to question. I have always questioned the ‘fake’ world of art. The money side, the business side of it is obviously important, in particular if you want to have a career as an artist, but personally, my heart is in my work. I use my work as a type of therapy to myself. I enjoy the process I go through and I am never overly concerned with the outcome. Although saying this, my outlook on the final outcome is beginning to change. I believe it does need to be a certain standard but I feel the process is just as important and I feel that Perry is saying this. Grayson says to be creative, make mistakes, play, experiment and this is why I love creating art. However at this moment in time, I cant quite bring myself to understand the criteria you have to meet to be able to sell the art and I don’t enjoy the fact that its ‘who you know, not what you know’ kind of world. Unfortunately I think this goes for all aspects of society. It is what it is. I think Perry is a really interesting man that knows a lot about the art world.

I went onto read The Guardian link on the course material and picked out these quotes:

‘The world I draw is the interior landscape of my own personal obsessions and of cultures I have absorbed and adapted, from Latvian folk art to Japanese screens.’ (The Guardian)

‘For me, drawing manifests itself in two distinct ways: in the urgency of a doodle, or the obsessive labour of intricate detail.’ (The Guardian)

‘I enjoy getting lost in the labour of a marathon drawing. Once I have committed myself to a theme and structure, I snuggle into the comforting drudgery of copying out every detail of elaborate costumes, machines or buildings. I surround myself with stacks of source material: books, magazines, a computer.’ (The Guardian)

Inside Grayson Perry’s Sketchbook (guardian):

‘A sketchbook is a place where I can discuss ideas with myself, a place I work through and refine an idea for a good while before I will let it run around the studio, and then the world.’ (The Guardian, 2016)

‘A sketchbook for me is a sacred artefact, more so than many of my finished works. The density of thought, the love of art and the sheer number of man-hours in each one load them with huge meaning and memory for me.’ (The Guardian, 2016)

There is just something about looking at artists sketchbooks. Its like seeing the inside of them rather than just what they want us to see, which is the final piece. It gets me excited to start creating, doodling in my sketchbook. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly finished piece. Just a place to play!

Video: So he uses traditional forms of creating art, like tapestries and ceramics but actually the content is very much based on society today and its modern views. For example he’s drawn images related to Brexit on his traditional ceramic vase. He just enjoys pushing the boundaries. How far can he push? Thats the feeling I get.  He mentions that people that go to see his art are also interested in seeing him, the artist or in any art by any artist.

It made me think why he dresses as a woman. Does he want the public to look at him? Is it the ultimate question that is this the whole point. He’s playing with the viewers all the time to question his own position in the art.

If his work is quite clashing in modern and past ways to create art (as I have said above) then is he cross dressing to further that confusion?

He seems a complicated man to understand if trying to unravel in this way.

Yet again you can easily see and accept him for whims he is and not read into it, but I somehow think thats not what he wants us to do?! (Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! 2017)

It was more important for him to look interesting rather than a woman – and he does do this because he gets the attention and me for example, I have researched him further as I cant figure him out. And maybe he likes that.

I embrace the fact that I look funny

More interested in the emotional rewards of finding who you are

Whole goal in life is not giving a dam

(Grayson Perry discusses his gender identity, 2016)

Figure 2

The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Democracy has bad taste. (2013) [radio programme, online] Pres. Lawley, S. BBC 4. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Beating the Bounds. (2013) [radio programme, online] Pres. Lawley, S. BBC 4. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. Nice Rebellion, Welcome in. (2013) [radio programme, online] Pres. Lawley, S. BBC 4. At:  (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

The Reith Lectures. Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery. I found myself in the art world. (2013) [radio programme, online] Pres. Lawley, S. BBC 4. At:  (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Artnet. (2018) Grayson Perry. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Perry, G. (2009) ‘Grayson Perry lassos thoughts with a pen’. In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Perry, G. (2016) ‘Inside Grayson Perry’s sketchbook’. In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Figure 1. Perry, G. (2012) Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close. [Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry] At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Figure 2. Perry, G. (2013) A Map of Days [Etching from four plates] At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Figure 3. Perry, G. (2011) Map of Truths and Beliefs [Wool and cotton tapestry] At: (Accessed on 22November 2018)

Victoria Miro. (2017) House Work. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! (2017) Serpentine gallery. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

Grayson Perry discusses his gender identity (2016) [user-generated content online] Creat. Channel 4. 8 November 2016. At: (Accessed on 22 November 2018)

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