Grayson Perry speaks at UEL. Photograph: UEL
Grayson Perry speaks at UEL. Photograph: University of East London

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint”, the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry told a flock of young artists in a speech at the University of East London last month.

The artist doled out valuable nuggets on how to conquer the art world, with patience, passion and a ‘plan B’ at the crux of it.

Rule number one is to love what you do. “You’re not going to make good art if you’re loading it up with expectations of income or praise or respect,” Perry began. Expectations will make your art a burden, and most importantly, “it must not become something that tortures you”.

Perry told the audience, mostly composed of fresh-faced students, about the importance of being “a bit raw”. Most of their art so far, he said, is likely to be unoriginal, for becoming a great artist takes time. “Stick with it,” he advised.

Succeeding in the art world will not happen all at once, so a ‘Plan B’ is always a sensible idea. Perry’s own backup plan, he revealed, was in advertising, yet fortunately he’s always been able to live off his art (along with a little help from his wife, the psychotherapist and author Philippa Perry).

Earning a living from art is a defining dilemma of many an artist, and Perry’s answer to this was to sell your work and not worry about the price. “Don’t overprice”, he insisted. At the start of your career, “the work is out there being an ambassador for you”, and you must do everything to get it out.

Like in any career “it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of networking”, Perry added, and recounted how manoeuvring himself into a seat next to Neil MacGregor at a dinner party planted the seed for an exhibition that took place at the British Museum a few years later.

Judging from Perry’s own road to fame, his advice is solid. Perry comes from a working class background and achieved widespread acclaim only in his late thirties. He said he saw himself in some of the UEL students. “I imagine a lot of the kids here, they don’t have conversations about art around the dinner table with their mum and dad. So you’ve got to be really driven, and I think that’s important.”

Perry admitted he is still learning a lot about himself and his art. His next television project will be about masculinity, and the process of making the programme he claims taught him a lot. “I might put on a dress sometimes,” he said, “but I am really quite a man.”

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  1. I found this very encouraging coming from Grayson who has made the journey and speaks with experience! I am a part time Foundation Degree in Art and Craft, student at Leek College. I feel less freedom of expression for intuitive art creation now, than when I began last September,,,,,,kind of fearful of getting things wrong! Anyway, still get great pleasure from liking printmakers’ works of art on Facebook!
    Confidence to continue and a Plan B – back to making scones in my tearoom venture plan beside the sea!
    Thank you for hitting a nail on the head for me in this article!

  2. Big fan of this lovely man, his amazing work and his beliefs.I always try to watch any time he’s on tv. I enjoy his presenting, he’s such a natural. Last night’s programme about Men was so interesting, very true and really summed up so well what is going on in many places. I was in tears several times. The symbolic tapestry and beautifully designed pot you made were just perfect and clearly moved all those involved. Grayson you did a wonderful job and presented your ideas sooo well. You are a true artist with a really good soul – it shows in your work.. Long may you continue to make people so happy and this deeply troubled world a better place. Sending you much love, very best wishes from a Black Country wench now living on the Isle of Bute off Scotland’s west coast.

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