For the majority of us less academic artistic individuals, the reading of an arts book can seem like quite a daunting task. Before you’ve even chosen which book you plan to struggle through, your mind is invaded with probing questions:
“What if the author uses big words I don’t understand? What if I learn all my current thoughts and interpretations of art are wrong? What if I don’t make it through the first chapter without falling asleep? What if I find it… dull?”
This is exactly way in which I have always approached reading art books. It got to the point that I was actually a bit terrified.
Until one day, whilst scanning the shelves at Waterstones, I came across a small white book nestled between the bold thick binds of much older books analysing the skills of the grand masters of the art world.
There it sat. Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry. For once, I felt calm holding an art analysis book in my palms- and not just because of my undying love and trust in Perry himself. I opened to the first chapter and sighed with relief at the size 12, maybe 14, font- already I was less intimidated.
“You could actually make it through this one Florence,” I thought to myself.
And then, would you believe it, actual pictures. Quirky, fun, colourful pictures in an arts book AND a picture on every other double page spread! (Too many times I have picked up an analysis of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, greeted by the beautiful cover, only to see a couple of rough monochrome photocopies of works later thrown in carelessly.)
In this day and life of contemporary art, it is difficult for everyone- yes, artists and others as a whole- to understand what is good art, why certain pieces sell at certain prices, and what makes someone uniquely successful in today’s art world. In Playing to the Gallery Perry holds your hand as he guides you through the maze of it all. With a full description of the art world and its inhabitants, Perry explains the importance of the people who ultimately decide what a piece of good art is and what it is worth. He offers a step-by-step guide on how to test the boundaries of contemporary art, enabling the reader to analyse art and its worth next time they’re in a contemporary art environment.
To me, the most charming element of this arty literature is the insights the reader is given into the life of Perry himself. Whether you’re a crazed super fan or an intrigued passer-by, it is always interesting to know how an artist as successful as Perry started out in the industry, grew up in it and blossomed into the artist they/he is now. For an aspiring artist, such as myself, these extracts of experience Perry shares, in some way, help restore faith and confidence within myself and my own work, taking comfort in knowing that success is not easy and takes time- rather than running in circles, screaming out for recognition.
Without giving too much way- I could discuss this book endlessly- for anyone with an interest in the contemporary art world, Perry’s Playing to the Gallery is a beautifully simple explanation for the ways and workings of the complicated industry. If you have been involved in arts since birth and know the ins and outs of it already, I’d encourage you to read this book for a refreshing insight to the contemporary art world whilst sipping a beverage on a sunny afternoon. If you dabble in the arts and know a little or average amount about its world, I’d suggest you read this book whilst away on a long weekend to widen your appreciation and admiration and understanding of the contemporary arts. If you, or someone know has very little knowledge of (dare I say is ignorant of) contemporary art, I’d recommend reading this literacy in bite-size pieces over a week for the chance to grasp a hold of what art is and, perhaps, even begin to grow a tiny bit excited at the prospect of experiencing new art in a new today.
Ultimately it does not matter who you are, what you like, where you are from, Playing to the Gallery is a well written yet relaxed, an intriguing yet not over whelming, book that will enlighten and inspire you whether you’re an “artist” or an “other”.