Thursday, 7 July 2011

every step a stumble

I was mixing up paint in an old saucer this morning. The first thing I noticed was that, as usual, at some point I had started humming to myself, which seems to happen completely unconsciously and within about five minutes of any sort of paint-related activity. Then I began to notice the edge of a thought, creeping out of the murk as I fixed my attention on the mixing. I can't completely grasp it. But it's something about the history of your life in relation to the capacity to re-start a particular form of creative work after a very long gap (in my case, about 25 years).

Each tiny step that I make in the direction of actually painting - actually doing something, anything, with paint, consistently, most days - is, in a weird kind of way, a denial of all the years that I decided not to do this. It doesn't mean that whatever I did in the intervening years was a mistake, or without value. But, here with a brush, or a pen, or a pencil in my hand, it suddenly hits me, with a kind of force, that I've been here before. In fact that I was here before, many, many times. And it wasn't enough. I didn't have enough oomph, enough wally (British colloquialisms - energy, conviction), to keep making the marks. I lost courage. I thought that the feeling of not knowing where I was going meant that this was not an activity that could be continued with. That I didn't have that mysterious thing that is supposed to fire artists up, creating an irresistable urge to create which cannot be resisted. I used to seriously believe that was going to happen; that one day I would be seized by that power, made, in an instant, into a channel for a flow I could feel, always just slightly out of reach.

One could get all psychological/therapeutic here. Basic lack of a sense of agency, of one's own power? Some kind of learning from experience that had fashioned a visceral, embodied belief that powers came like that out of void and threw you around in an uncontrollable way? Or perhaps I should get cultural/sociological and discuss the source of romanticised ideas about the muse, and the maddness and uncontrollability of artistic creation. But this isn't my point. My point is the effect that turning away from believing in the mark-making 25years ago is having on the capacity to re-start mark-making now. More than that, on the capacity to continue mark-making now.

I still can't make this feeling take the form of words. Is it, 'now that I begin to see that, actually, mark-making is possible for me, I feel that I have wasted 25 years when I went somewhere else'? That's not quite it, because that thought doesn't necessarily have any effect on mark-making in the present. It's as if every mark that makes it onto the paper here, now, in 2011, has to fight the realisation that these marks have been wanting to come out all of this time. That they were there, all those years ago, if only I had known how to let them out (and then I could have had an extra 25 years of mark-making??). Still not it.

Every mark now has to fight the voice that said 'What's the point?'. 'You can't make money out of this'. 'You'll never be secure if you carry on like this'. That voice won, for a long time. It won for most of my adult life. It's used to winning. And now some other voice is trying to stand up to it, to counter it, to find enough strength from somewhere to not only stand up, but to bop this long-established bully on the nose. And to keep bopping it till it gets tired and actually bops off somewhere else.

Still not completely it. I'm left with the vague sense that this activity in the present of mark-making as value seems in some way to undermine my sense of my own history, in a way I can't put my finger on. Perhaps the thought is, 'if this had value all the long, you didn't have to do all that'. Or is it, ' if this didn't have value then, why should it have value now?'. Mmmm. I think I might be moving from the second towards the first. They're all blocks to creativity, whatever way you look at it....

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