Playing to the Gallery – book

Playing to the Gallery is by Grayson Perry and published by Penguin, 2014. It will be familiar to anyone who has watched his Reith lectures, available on You-tube via the BBC Radio 4 channel, but still worth the read. The subtitle is “Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood”, I think this shortsells the work somewhat.

I like it because it’s a very grounded view of art and artists. My favourite chapter is “I Found Myself in the Art World”. Here he considers the value of a formal arts education, which reassured me that I was doing the right thing by engaging in formal learning. He talks about Robert Prisig (of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and his view of ideas as small furry creatures emerging from the undergrowth, and how you have to be nice to them. This resonated with my view of ideas as tender new shoots which you look after, cultivate, but never judge. I am also curious to read Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life” after reading Perry’s paraphrasing of how it’s better to see your location with your hero’s eyes than your hero’s location with your eyes. For someone who is strongly inspired and influenced by other artists, that made a lot of sense.

It is very practical and realistic small book, well illustrated and very accessibly written. He moves effortlessly from making sense of art in galleries and museums to the brutal realities of making your own work, of needing to balance the courage to develop work and put it out there with the need to tend and nurture one’s creative centre. He considers how the most apparently “ridiculous” ideas can be the same ideas that a career is built around for years. He talks about what to do after you finish your course, how to get started. He talks about failure, success, and dealing with both. He talks about art, sculpture, photography, tapestry… it’s accessible no matter what your creative discipline may be..

Like Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist, this book is invaluable for getting going and keeping going, especially on the days when things aren’t going so well.


Grayson Perry Reith Lectures on You-tube –

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal like an artist. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: Workman Publishing.


2 thoughts on “Playing to the Gallery – book

  1. Nicola Hallam June 2, 2017 / 3:56 am

    A book I need to invest in I think. I’ve not long read Austin Kleons’ book …….a breath of fresh air to me…..thank you for the indirect recommendation 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate June 2, 2017 / 4:24 pm

      I keep meaning to write a post about the Kleon, such a helpful book. The Perry Reith lectures are good for ironing or cleaning sessions as they are just audio with no changing video.


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