Making things takes time and effort. More than you’d expect, probably. I am often shocked by how long things take and I think it’s partly down to the confusing phenomenon of looking at things being instantaneous. Given the time and energy cost of the work I do, it is important for me to feel like I am investing my time in the projects that will be the most worthwhile.
At any moment I will have 20 ideas or so in my head, and from among them I have to decide which idea to invest in. At this point, they’re just little seeds and there isn’t much to go on to predict their relative value at the point of completion. So what I do is, I mentally pick up each idea and weigh it up in my imaginary hand and try and get a feel for what it is and how it will turn out. After doing this for a little while, sometimes there is one idea that really leaps out, but mostly, it feels like a subtle inkling which encourages me to take the leap of faith as I embark on the process of bringing the next idea into existence.
Something that struck me is that in order to be able to pick out the ‘top’ idea, there has to be a kind of hierarchy of ideas - yet how can you have a hierarchy of paintings when it is such a fluid and subjective space?! Furthermore, for this hierarchy to exist, there has to be a set of values behind it - are the best ideas the ones that make the most money? or are they the ones that have the most social impact? maybe the ones that are most personal? or could the best ideas be the ones which are the most technically challenging? etc.
The underpinning structure that informs a lot of the decision making in an open-ended process like 'creativity' is the ethos of the creator. Artists are encouraged to have an 'artist's statement' - something that outlines their reason for working and consequently gives a sense of direction and a decision-making methodology. Up until recently, if someone asked me what my artistic values were (and therefore what my hierarchy is based on), I don’t think I would be able to give a concise answer.
This changed recently due to a conversation which sparked a powerful and moving epiphany, teaching me something invaluable about myself and helping me on the way to understanding and enriching my artistic journey...
Talking to a friend about the aforementioned struggle to decide what seeds to invest my time cultivating, I became frustrated about the difficulty I have with the conflicting ideas in my head and not knowing which voice to listen to. I feel like the ideas represent multiple versions of me, some of which fight for attention whereas others hide from the limelight. Frustrated with the circularity and my problems in resolving the debate, I found myself saying something which sent a rush of electricity through me, made my face buzz hot and almost made me cry…
“I think if I had more courage, my core value would be to make the things that I want to make purely for the sake of doing them. The true artist within me understands that that’s justification enough”.
The clarity of the idea sounded like a gong. I was also deeply moved as I kept this idea to myself and had never said it out loud for fear of being wrong; “what, you made it because you wanted to…? That’s not very original…”.
Pondering the epiphany, it hit me that I carry voices in my head that undermine my ideas, saying things like ‘Your work is not serious enough / it’s too cartoony / it’s not well painted enough / it’s too obvious / it’s been done before…’. I realised that this voice holds me back and is preventing me from expressing myself and exploring my own ideas. I have been allowing myself to be guided by the fear of what other people will think, or perhaps, more precisely: my projected version of what I think others will think. To follow these voices would be to express a version of myself as seen from my concept of others’ perspective of me. This is a mangled and twisted idea!
This is what I found so moving about the epiphany - it connected me with myself, engaging me in my own life allowing me to be more present.
In conclusion, I have defined a pillar in my artist’s statement and my vision moving forwards. Next time somebody asks me how I decide what to work on, I will gaily say:
I create work which emanates from a pre-rational desire to create; a primal, child-like impulse and desire for fun, curiosity and mystery. I hope that people who consume my work are lit up by it and reconnected to their sense of magic.
From now on, when I have the conversation with myself about what to make, I will remind myself that any curiosity and desire to bring something into existence is in itself enough, and it could actually be more than that: it might be very valuable. Sometimes it’s ok to free yourself of all the self-conscious, intertextual overthink and celebrate the pure magic of creativity.
It might mean stepping out from the safety of what I believed permitted by the imaginary art world, but that originality is precious, and if anything desirable! Along with this self-expression there is fear; it leaves you open to criticism and judgement which is undoubtedly scary. Curiously, however, this challenge is also an opportunity for courage and is the battleground for a potential victory for self actualisation. Without that fear there can be no courage. And this creative courage is refreshing for the audience.
The critics (both internal and external) will think and say what they want. I choose to pursue what I think is important, interesting and worthwhile, and this is me.
Homer Simpson on a motorbike sculpture, here we come..!