I recently re-read Grayson Perry’s book Playing to the Gallery. Here it is photographed on top of my mid-century modern chest of drawers. I like to think that Perry would appreciate the nod to the “vanity of small differences” that he so eloquently describes in the book. I also got it out of my local library (and in the process managed to accrue a 25p overdue fine), a detail that I think would make Perry smile.
I was inspired to re-read it in part by his recent Channel 4 series on the contemporary construction of masculinity, and in part by the fact that I’m attempting to set up an interview with him (more on that story later).
The book is based on his 2013 Reith lectures for the BBC – you can still listen to them here – and takes a walk around the contemporary art world, with Perry as your questioning and often comedic tour guide. Despite being an accessible read, Perry’s writing is colourful and filled with metaphor. Here’s his rather wry take on the status on craft that particularly tickled me:
“If you think of contemporary art as the vibrant city centre of culture with all the young, happening, trendy things going on, and you think of the old masters as this beautiful mellow landscape in the distance, then craft is probably thought of as a suburb that you drive through on the way to your second home.”
The following quote that Perry cites from Tracey Thorn, lead singer with Everything But The Girl, says all that needs to be said about the use of irony in contemporary art (she also uses one of my favourite words – “eschewing”):
“It is difficult for people in the arts to be entirely sincere about things without looking like they have not thought about it properly. The problem with irony is that it assumes the position of being the end result, from having looked at it from both sides and having a very sophisticated take on everything. So the danger of eschewing irony is that you look as though you’ve not thought hard enough about it and that you’re being a bit simplistic.”
If, like me, you can’t get enough of Grayson you’ll be eagerly awaiting his new book on masculinity, The Descent of Man, which will be published by Penguin in October 2016. However, it seems somehow fitting to Perry’s worldview that this blog is about an old book, not a new one.