Monday, March 28, 2011

Just that: "Yes, that."

Seems like once again, this pirate heart's back in the right place for blogging again, and I'm thinking a lot about where I'm heading and what I'm after, but this time it's not with a sense of fear or uncertainty. After the protests yesterday, I was talking to Anna at the Festival Hall bar and she said a lovely thing that really rang true to me:

"I don't understand why it is that someone who trains as an artist still struggles to call themselves an artist or that people doubt you're an artist unless you're making work or getting paid for it. If you study something else to that level, you're qualified and that's it, there's no question about it, but there's this weird uncertainty and self-doubt around the art that's almost mystical."
It's true. You study linguistics, you're a linguist, whether or not you work in research. Like Maureen Lipman said, "You get an -ology; you're a scientist!" so why is there this bizarre hesitancy that so many people feel about describing their entitlement to call themselves artists?

I think it's because artists, whether writers, poets, performers, painters, singers, musicians or whatever their discipline are experienced in some way as if we are contemporary priestesses and priests and mystics.

There's something about art that people hopes will speak sooth.

Those coded truths that ring through in art, whether the gasp of admiration in the draftsmanship of an architect's hand or the blade of a poet's words that slips as a stiletto knife past the thick plate armour of modern hubris; there's something we hope for in art that represents and reflects aspects of human experience, and that's a power we, as humans, experience as a (capital R) Romantic experience of nature - it's the awe of a sunrise, the thought-vortex of quantum physics, the possible impossibility of proving or disproving the divine, the poetry of connection, that simple static shock of contact that builds up after dragging your feet for too long.

That's what art reaches for; that's what we fear failing to achieve.

If I am an artist now, it is because I aspire to something akin to that. I don't pretend to have anything to teach anyone; I don't know if this is what a priest experiences as a calling, only that there are stories that I long to tell because I want to connect with people because I feel that static charge build up whenever I drag my feet for too long and I just hope that drawing, painting, writing, speaking it out might one day make some kind of spark that lights something up in someone else that makes them look at me and say, "Yes. That!" the way I've felt when I've read the poets whose work has torn through me like thunder or the sculpture that has drawn tears from me, or the comic books that have turned my life completely from its headlong path towards self-destruction.

Just that.

"Yes, that!"

That's what I'm terrified I'll never be entitled to lay claim to; it's a title I can never really grant myself and it's a qualification that although I'll study as hard as I possibly can to learn all my craft to the best of my ability, it's not the degree I tried to kill myself over and over again to achieve, nor the MA I'm desperately pushing myself to attain that will truly count as the proof I think most artists are after.

Just that.

"Yes, that."


Tove Andrews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Preverb said...

Hello Howard (you don't know me,I'm a friend of Tove's)

I've just started blogging and today was responding to what you wrote here.

I put my response at

It seems to me that the self-doubts that trouble artists are a lot to do with being exclusively artists- putting all your eggs in one basket and then freaking out about the possibility of that basket breaking. I'm not a working artist at all (I teach physics), but if you look at you'll see I put time and energy into creating artworks.