Grayson Perry’s Seven Lessons of Creativity

“A poet’s hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere.” -W.H. Auden


I love this quote because it speaks so well of all artists and their need to balance the personal and the public.

I love, too, where I found the quote – in a report on Grayson Perry’s talk last year at Advertising Week Europe. Perry, a Turner Prize-winning ceramics artist (and now Chancellor of the University of the Arts London), presented his seven lessons of creativity -in all of his transvestite glory. Perry’s given a number of these talks with slight variations, but they all make the same important points, and come from the same perspective.

Grayson Perry at University College London. Photo by Kerston Holst, 2013

Grayson Perry points out, “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’s not a fan of words like eclectic, authentic and profound. “If someone says they’ve got eclectic taste, I say they’ve got no taste.” As for passion, it’s too often spoken about by “men on stages with head-mics.”


Photo from Advertising Week Europe

Seven Lessons of Creativity


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.”

“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.

Artists must take the terrifying road of “doing your own thing.”


Be Uncool

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

Don’t go along with the crowd, avoid the hipsters and don’t be afraid to make art that you think is beautiful, about what you’re interested in (in Grayson’s case headscarves and kinky sex) and where you live.

“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.”


Play Seriously

“If you’re making art then you must make it seriously”

“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.


Be Specific (Not Global)

“In a global culture people shouldn’t be afraid to be specific. Look at what’s happened to youth culture. The internet has made youth culture across the world the same. it’s a mash-up of things. There’s nothing worse than attempting to be globally applicable.”

“A poet’s hope to be, like some valley cheese, local but prized elsewhere.” -WH Auden


Nobody is Original – Don’t Try

Perry said that according to the “Helsinki Bus Station” theory, an artist’s career is like picking a bus: 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.”


Put the Hours In

Get better at working all the time. Focus on the skill of making something, regardless of the meaning of the finished product.

“I learned about that by making model airplanes. I get obsessed with detail.”



Notice your reactions to the world, especially if they’re angry ones.

“I like using anger… anger puts me in a different place”



Further Observation

Grayson Perry’s Venn diagram for aspiring artists. (Fuzzy photo courtesy of an attendee.)



More about Grayson Perry’s creativity talks here, here and here.