I try to steady myself, ready myself, for the reactions to my show. I can't put my work out there in the world and not expect some kind of comeback. And ironically, of course, if there was no reaction, well, no doubt that would be even worse. Being ignored could feel worse than being ridiculed, or trivialised, or in some way criticised.
I found this out recently and very painfully in relation to writing and singing in a workshop context. I learnt so much from that experience. Locked up inside myself, until that moment I had no perspective on the multiple beings within me, on their clamouring and discordant demands, on the ways that they fight against each other's best interests, and against the wisdom of what I can only call my soul.*
Within myself, I'm very clear about how this work is done, why this work is done. What this work does not try to be. I've spent thirty years thinking about this in relation to painting. When I first left art college, I was completely confused about the judgement of others in relation to what I wanted to do. How I did I know that what I wanted to do was/would be 'good'? How could I make this judgement? What was 'good' anyway? How did people judge paintings even for themselves, let alone in relation to the massive weight of history (which always seemed to be present - your work was occurring in the 20th century, and had to be some kind of development or contribution to all that had come before, and all that was around you...)?
These questions stuffed me up so completely that I couldn't really work at all. When this current activity appeared four years ago, it only managed to occur because it had finally worked out how to side-step all the things that had been blocking it up. After thinking about it all those years, my soul found a way to trick my will and my ego and my mind. My health and my smile began to gather around this new practice of what I knew to be my oldest love, and I finally found a place to stand that was stronger than my own sabotage.
So far, so good. The work can come, because it comes in private, and because I've deliberately not put it out there in the world. The only feedback I get tends to come via facebook or the website, and that only comes from those who react positively to what I'm doing, who want to make the effort to say that the paintings touch them in some way. This has been really important as an encouragement to persist, because part of the process of making paintings itself consists of continual doubting and judging as the marks emerge. It could be no other way - as things happen on the paper, you make decisions in every second about what kind of mark, what colour, to apply next. I can't really see what I'm doing while it's going on, but I've had to learn to trust in some kind of driver that is wiser than anything I can do with my mind. You never really know when to stop. You often don't know what you think about what comes. It's easy to trivialise and dismiss it.
I've made progress in being able to interfere less with this process, so that some paintings actually do appear. In workshops, I've been working on trying to get to this same place of acceptance and space with singing and performing, but it's been much more difficult. Because it's in the moment. There's no private process, later to be shared. You have to be there, present, at the moment you make your art, and that nearly kills me. Or has done up to now. Not, interestingly, with movement, but with music, most definitely.
Ruminations on what's happening with the singing, and what changed in the recent workshop, however, are for another posting. Today, I'm thinking about all this in relation to putting on my show. So, like I said, I'm very clear that I'm not putting this on to try to impress the world, to show people that I'm some kind of good or clever artist, to contribute to art history, to be taken seriously by the commercial art world, or to be recognised as some kind of weighty creative force.
This show is what is what I see. It's how I experience the world, how the world comes through me. It's called Wild Life, and it's about life; my life, this life, my response to living, through paint and the choosing of poems and music; all put together to make an art composite of painting, music, poetry and live performance. It feels, actually, like something I'm producing, as an overall piece. As long as I stay in that feeling, it flows with an unimaginable ease. I see that I want to build a composite of smaller images on the wall, I hear the kind of music I want to be there... ideas appear, trying to make a whole.
I think that what I would really like, perhaps, is for people to walk in the door and agree to say nothing at all! I would like them to walk through the space, to look, without talk. I would also like them, if they felt drawn to a particular painting, if they wanted it for themselves - if they wanted to look at it every day because it moved something in them, or reminded them of something - to give me some money for it and take it away. I would feel like I was saying goodbye to something very close to me, a part of me, really, but I would want them to have it, if they wanted it (I'm not so bothered about the money thing now, I see that as a necessary part of the exchange, as I need to money to buy stuff to make these things).
But, of course, it isn't going to be like this. People feel obliged to react with words. They feel it's expected, that they can't just come and be silent and have their own experience. Or the words come out spontaneously, projections of their own worlds and expectations, part of their wild life, part of their being, of how they are in the world.
So far, so no problem. Except that my insecure soul finds it very hard to remember that last paragraph.
When, as has happened twice to me recently, I've been taken aback by someone using the word 'fun' to describe my work, I somehow feel implicated, involved. Perhaps I felt insulted, that my great holy creative process, my response to the hugeness of life itself, had somehow been trivialised. This is a seriously non-productive, damaging error on my part. No-one, actually, has the power to trivialise my work, to affect it in any way at all.
Perhaps those two ex-academics felt the need to judge the paintings in relation the the history of art, in relation to their own confident judgements about what is 'good' or 'bad' art, in the context of a commercial art world that is alive and and very powerful. Perhaps, even, some part of their ego was affronted by the audacity of my leaving all that is socially sanctioned, all that they themselves have worked so hard to achieve, and continue to work so hard to maintain (possibly against the protestations of their soul, which may be desperate to sing and to dance and to play with colour..) and so felt the need to try to reduce, even wound, this joyful exuberance in paint, which says 'fuck the lot of you, with your ideas about what is and what isn't art, what is and what shouldn't be a life...'. Or perhaps they meant fun genuinely. Perhaps that's how they express what I call joyful exuberance, with or without my own personal sense of of connecting with the heart of the universe....
I can't know what moves them to comment in the way they do. What I do know is that it won't be any of the above, that all of that is my projection, which simply shows me some of the demons inhabiting my own closet.
So, how to somehow remember all of this, to see it, so that I'm not wounded when the utterly unpredictable comments come, as come they will; projections from other people's worlds, nothing, at all, to do with me??
*No religious or essentialist meaning intended here. Soul, for me, is that dynamic aspect of myself as a biological-entity-with-awareness which tries to steer me in the direction of what will lead to the flourishing of myself as a whole system rather than my gradual poisoning. All living organisms have this mechanism. It's a bit complicated in humans, because we have awareness, so we can interrupt what it tries to do with the mind/will...