What follows is a piece I wrote for Country Style, March 2016. It was understandably shortened so that it did not take up the entire magazine, but I thought I would publish the full text here, mainly because it is my blog and I can. Hope you enjoy. xx
ON MAKING ART
We make art “because we believe in play and its dignity. We believe in secrets, in the human secret of art”. - Thomas Mann
In my teens I got confused and thought the aim of the life game was to be successful. I did things to get good marks, pats on the back, applause. In particular, I enjoyed the version of success that looked like I had done staggeringly well without trying very hard. I adored being the house captain that smoked cigarettes in the bamboo behind the school pool. I worshipped natural talent, or at least the appearance of it.
Obviously so much is crazy and limiting about this guiding principle, but one of the major side affects was that I was ashamed of things I wasn’t outstanding at, like drawing, playing the cello (in hindsight I was probably better then average, just not a virtuoso), singing, snowboarding (the amount of instructors I have lied to, saying it was only my second lesson is nothing short of weird).
And that shame killed off any creativity. For years I was fine with that. I worked hard during the week, wrote myself off on weekends, had fun with my girlfriends.
One day a boyfriend, who was the type of guy who was into all sorts of things - rock climbing, photoshop, even spearfishing for god’s sake - looked me straight in the eye and said “you don’t have any hobbies”, with the emphasis on any. Tonally it sounded like “you don’t eat any vegetables”; a mixture of pity and disgust. “Yes I do,” I replied angrily. And when I couldn’t think of any, I went to my room.
I didn’t have any hobbies because how could you when you had to be very good at them all. It was exhausting and I was either working or drunk or hungover.
Thankfully something in my mind has shifted since then. (Thankfully a lot in my mind has shifted since then) I am starting to care less about the result and more about the experience.
A few years ago I did a week long pottery course at the National Art School. I can barely distinguish the five days from each other, I was lost in a tactile world of pottery wheels spinning and wet clay forming. I can’t remember thinking of anything really, I was just doing. At the end all I had to show for it was a bunch of crappy bowls, but the experience was soul enriching. I felt completely energised, inspired and more settled than I had been for quite some time. It was as if the voice in my head had shut up long enough for my body to remember that everything was ok.
For me art happens when you are in that space above the chitter chatter in your head. Just being in that space is valuable. It is restorative, even if nothing particularly good is created. When I give myself time to concentrate on writing or to take photos or to make something pretty out of some branches, I am opening myself up to art. For that time I am an artist, regardless of the outcome. I am tired of the notion you have to sell x amounts of paintings for x amount of dollars to call yourself an artist.
You do not need to be particularly good at it. You do not need to be able to make money off it. In order to create art, all that matters is that you believe creating is a worthwhile thing to be doing, not for the end result, but for the doing itself. That there is dignity in the doing. Sometimes in that doing, magical and almost mysterious ideas will appear, other times they won’t.
Some people are very good at what they do when they are in that space - like the artists featured in this issue - and I am glad they have shared their work with a world outside their own. But even if your results are less pleasing or less popular, there is still such value in time spent creating.
There are so many gems in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, Big Magic, and so you must read it anyway, but one of my favourites is “if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something”. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when I read that line. I realised that art is not only something I wanted to do sometimes, but something I had to do.
Even if I never sell a ceramic bowl, or a wreath or a photo or a short story. Even if no one ever reads, sees or cares about my work, even if my only instagram follower is my mother, it actually doesn’t matter. The process of working creatively is more than beneficial, it is essential.
If this is ringing any bells for you I urge you to make the time for creative endeavours. Any creative endeavours - singing Credence Clearwater Revival a cappella, nude self portraits while the kids are at school, trying to capture the fragility of life via wilting peonies on your i-phone camera… whatever, it is all dignified, it is all worthy. Throw all your perfectionist-leaning, result-driven expectations in the rubbish bin and enjoy the artistic ride because there is a seat on that rollercoaster for all of us.