Grayson Perry Advertising Week

Grayson Perry: Lessons in creativity


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

March 26, 2015 | 5 min read

Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry took to the stage at Advertising Week Europe in the bold fashion we have come to expect.

“The word creativity has really gritted on me because it’s often used by people who aren’t and say it’s very important,” he claimed.

“A lot of creativity happens in offices that look like boutique hotels. It’s like a recipe for creativity. If you just put the right things together it will happen.”

According to Perry, along with a designer office that recipe includes buzzwords like authenticity (usually "used by men with beards who drink craft beer”), eclectic (“if someone says they’ve got eclectic taste, I say they've got no taste”), spirituality (“used as a get out clause in a situation where you can’t be specific”) and passion (again, said by “men on stages with head-mics”)

While Perry admitted “there’s no recipe”, he did offer up his own lessons in creativity.

1. Know yourself.

“Whether it’s anger, sadness, adrenaline, sexual perversion, narcissism, addiction. You’ve got to own [your feelings] and use them,” he urged. “Don’t be scared about being too open I’ve always thought. It’s never done me any harm.”

He used his ‘Tomb of an Unknown God’ exhibition as an example.

“I built a whole show around my teddy bear,” which Perry says acted as replacement father figure in his life after his own left at a young age. “I used my own family history to put together a whole show. It felt weird but….,"he added.

2. Be Uncool

“As a transvestite I’m genetically impelled to be a bit uncool,” he said, showing a picture of himself as a 14 year old boy dressed as an "old lady".

“Coolness is a form of orthodoxy. It’s a set of rules already coalesced around something. Being uncool is a powerful creative force.”

3. Play seriously

Perry said one of the most important things to remember is that seemingly insignificant doodles in a sketchbook are significant.

“You’ve got to take all of your little musings seriously. That little doodle in your sketch book might seem inconsequential but down the line it might turn into a major idea,” he said.

Exemplifying the point, Perry said his ‘house of living architecture’ [pictured below] was based on drawings of imaginary people’s houses me made with his daughter. Those turned into more details sketches which were then drawn by an architect. The building will officially open in Essex in mid-May.

4. Be specific. Not global

“This is very important,” said Perry. “Youth culture since the internet has become the mashup and teenagers pretty much look the same.”

However, he said there is nothing worse than an attempt to be universally applicable and urged those in the room to stop trying to be so global.

Quoting W.H. Auden he said: “A poet's hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized…”

5. Nobody is original – don’t try

Nobody’s work is original, according to Perry, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about borrowing aspects

Perry said that according to the ‘Helsinki Bus Station’ theory, an artist’s career is like picking a bus. The metaphor suggests that the bus is your artistic style, and as you get off at each stop you meet different people who will compare your work to something which has gone before. So you go back to the bus station, and pick another bus. And repeat the process.

“You’re in a no win situation,” said Perry. “What you’ve got to do is stay in the fucking bus.”

"The creativity happens after 50 stops; you've just got to keep plugging someone else until you become original.”

6. Put the hours in

“I’m a bit of a detail freak. I learned to put in the hours when I was a teenager working on model airplanes and that’s led through to the work I’m doing now.”

7. Be vulnerable.

“This is particularly [true for] men,” he said, who have to be more open to the creative process and stop clinging on to the idea of being right.

Perry pointed to the work of artist Alighiero Boetti who used to send maps he had designed to women in Afghanistan to embroider and turn into tapestries.

“When he got this one [picured above] back he asked why the sea was pink. He realised that the women had never seen the sea. And after that he said ‘you chose the sea [colour].’ He was open to that moment and didn’t cling on to the fact that he was right.”

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