Gilbert and George’s 10 commandments for making art in London from putting on pop-ups to embracing the times

Gilbert and George inside their centre (Prudence Cuming Associates)
Gilbert and George inside their centre (Prudence Cuming Associates)

1)Keep going

George: It’s funny that 99% of people who study to be dentists become dentists, and 99% of people who study to be artists don’t become artists.

2)Be free

Gilbert: The most important thing for artists is to be free. Starting out in East London, we did this crazy art at the time when people loved it or didn’t know what to think about it – but we were always free and made new worlds for 55 years.

3)Take inspiration from London

Gilbert: Only cities make artists. Berlin, London, New York, Paris.. You have to be where things are happening. You can come from the countryside but you have to get the countryside out of you to be an artist.

George: What it was like we were students… Both of us coming from the countryside to St Martin’s School of Art, every two minutes there was a police siren, every two minutes on the street was someone trying to con you. There were prostitutes, there were rent boys. We thought this was the centre of the world. As country people it was fantastic.

Gilbert: We had arrived!

 (Rex Features)
(Rex Features)

4)Don’t wait to be discovered

George: We never benefitted from subsidies. It’s about feisty young artists. Don’t wait for someone to knock on your door, go out and make art. We put on shows anywhere we could. A lot of people, a lot of teachers at the time thought the best thing was to go to your studio, work on your paintings and sooner or later someone would recognise you. They never will.

Gilbert: We never had any support. We were cleaning windows at night to make our art.

George: That’s why middle-class art students are f***ed. They could always go back to their dad’s firm. We never had anything to fall back on. We had to make it work. We’re proudly lower class.

Gilbert: We had to make it work, there was nothing else for us.

5)Put on a pop up

Gilbert: We always need more galleries. People need to show their art.

George: When you drive to dinner now you pass strange pop-up galleries, you see 17 people with a tin of beer outside and three paintings. The next time you go past it’s a ladies’ dress shop. And there are empty buildings where things can be put on maybe just for a night.

6)Keep innovating

Television arts presenter Melvyn Bragg (left) congratulates artists Gilbert (right) and George after winning the 1986 Turner Prize (PA)
Television arts presenter Melvyn Bragg (left) congratulates artists Gilbert (right) and George after winning the 1986 Turner Prize (PA)

We’re lucky we came from a generation that fought the prejudice of the teaching world. I was brought up with teachers who would just teach Cezanne, Monet, Degas; just drown you in madness and this expensive dead foreign art as if you couldn’t possibly be an artist yourself.

7)Leave your cynicism at the door

Gilbert: Americans bring total enthusiasm and that’s something you don’t find that in Europe or here.

George: There’s no cynicism there.

8)Make Art not war

George: At St Martin’s we were on the advanced sculpture course. It was run by Frank Martin, who had been in the Second World War, he’d been in the Desert Rats division. He came out of the war thinking there must be some way that people don’t attack each other. He thought art was the way. Maybe we can learn from that now.

9)Embrace the times

George: We lived a bit in the last century and this one is superior. Embrace it.

10)Express yourself

Gilbert: Visual art is all about expressing yourself. It’s about being completely free, being free spirited.

George: It wasn’t policemen and politicians who made us civilised, it was culture. The success of culture in the Western world is enormous. You can go anywhere in the world and say the name of Dickens or Elvis; culture is just enormous on every level. We are all reforming ourselves every day through art.

Gilbert: It’s about different ways of seeing the world. To make people think differently about what they see.

The second exhibition at The Gilbert & George Centre, London Pictures, is open now; for more information visit

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