I sit here, unwritten, so many years later, despite all my training, therapy and diversified skill set. Despite having gone to the professional development seminars, and sharpening my saw. Despite having published early and often, it has now been longer than a standard candidature since I published again. I have wondered so often: why? Why?
Now I feel closer to an answer.
At the end of last month I co-conceived, created, and performed in my first full-length, professional, paying audience performance piece. The reviews were stunning, the season a near sell-out, despite school holidays and a long weekend (#unhumblebrag). But a voice within me asked ‘how is this? You are not an artist’.
And I realised: it was because I didn’t know, didn’t judge, immersed myself fully and deeply in a safe space of ignorance, that I was able to create with such lively abandon. It was because I committed fully, with total trust, to working with my collaborators, telling them what I needed, what I wanted, and hearing and acting on the same from them.
Conversely, in my crippled state of non-writing, in my tight ball of anxiety over non-completion, over the impossible desire to avoid disappointing people I admire and hearing the inevitable ‘I liked your old stuff better than your new stuff’, in my paralysing fear of failure and underperformance, none of my training, my degrees, my awards and accolades were of any use at all.
Qualifications can qualify: in that sense of reducing, taking away, becoming narrower and more rigid, more reserved. If your art requires a complete lack of inhibition and restraint, at least in conception, it is easy to imagine that your creative spirit may survive in spite of, not exist because of, institutional walls and pathways.
I know my years in this institution of writing endeavour, collecting qualifications, my writing now squeezes out of me, drop by painful drop, stultified into dull dead-ends by the terror of being judged unworthy.
But now I write this for you, in spite of you, because of you, person who questioned my right to call myself an artist, as if art develops only in the training, as if it is contained within a barely three dimensional certificate of attainment. Instead, I know, I feel, I see, I hear: an artist is coaxed into being by mentors, teachers, friends, and every time anyone transforms an idea into an embodied existence. It lives in transmission from experienced guide to unexperienced explorer. Art thrives and grows wherever someone takes the time to rough up an idea, play with it, deepen it, take it away and sleep with it, until where an idea began and where it is now can be understood only in the context of the debris of the discarded – the unused marble, the wood shavings, the impossible what-ifs.
The artist lives in a sensibility of exploration, an uncontainable desire to share, to connect, to explain and to negotiate worlds of meaning and feeling and trajectories of change for the better. The artists lives in vulnerable exposure, trying once, and trying again, taking on the advice of others where it serves, and laying aside with gratitude and understanding that which doesn’t, with constant learning which is which and why. The artist lives in holding the centre, the idea around which the movements, materials or vision ebb and flow.
I am an artist. Now to bring art to my writing and let it live again.