Wednesday, 2 October 2013

get a therapist honey

An actor/puppeteer friend of mine was talking about some ideas she had for her puppet. She said she liked the puppet because then she could concentrate on what the show was about in terms of performance, in terms of the audience. 'It's for the audience', she said, 'If it's not for the audience, get a fucking therapist'.

This little comment seems to me to hold vast worlds of art-making conundrums within it.

'So, do you sell your paintings?'

'Well, it's great if I do, but that's not actually the point'.

'Oh, so you just do it for yourself, then..'

'Well, no, I mean, I don't want to do hundreds of paintings and just shove them all into my attic...'

Perhaps it's clearer if you're a performer, but for me, making paintings, the idea of doing your work 'for' an audience is deeply problematic. It could derail what I'm trying to do completely. 'Well, that green one could have sold four times, I think I'll do some more green ones'... is more subtle than... 'I'm going to try to repeat that one that sold yesterday'... or.... 'I'm going to do a series of paintings that I hope to sell in my next exhibition'. For me, this approach would completely change the nature of the work I'm trying to do. I see it as the art version of 'people-pleasing', which, as some of us may have discovered in our personal lives, is doomed to hopelessness. If you start wanting to please people you're stuffed, as far as I can see. Off on the route of trying to second-guess an imaginary person or audience who will never, actually, be the person or audience who ever stands in front of one of your paintings anyway. So you'll never get it 'right', you won't please anyone, and, in fact, you won't even be doing 'your' art. You'll be remaining a puppet of your own emotional history/lacunae; of some murky aspect of your psyche which is trying to get some attention without you even realising it.

This doesn't mean that emotion doesn't inspire and inflame and feed the making of art. My understanding at the moment is that experience and emotion are my raw materials. But I'm beginning to see that some kind of transformation needs to happen if the experience or emotion is to become something that can communicate with other people. I don't say communicate itself to other people, which is the pipeline view of creativity; the idea that the artist can pass something from themselves to someone else in a reasonably direct manner.

I find it easier to see this in relation to performance, which in my case is currently confined to singing in the protected space of an Authentic Artist or Discipline of Freedom workshop. I've discovered that I can actually 'sing from the heart' in two distinct ways. I can mainline directly to my own experience on every level, feeling completely exposed, completely raw. All of my life's experience is somehow carried in that way of singing, all of my troubles and my vulnerabilities and all of my pain. I'm vulnerable when I sing like that, and not in a good way. I'm vulnerable firstly because I'm not completely in the song; part of me is watching myself from across the room, making judgements. I care what people think, and I care what think. I don't want to sing badly, I want to sing my best possible singing, I want people to know that that best possible singing can come out of me, not this mediocre version which seems to be appearing in the moment... And there she is, the critic on my shoulder. My conservative ego, my traumatised child, sitting there like vultures, intent on stopping me from moving into a new story.

And then there's another way of singing from the heart. The same song, the same voice into the same air. But now the focus is not on me, on my voice, on the way that I am singing, on how I or anyone else may be judging me. Now the focus is on the song. On the words, on the feeling in the words, on the notes, on the nuances of harmony and expression. It feels different to sing from that place. There's no fear, there are no palpitations, no pumped up fantasy of how important the event of singing is. It's not a big deal. It's just a song. Like breathing, like having a glass of water. My birthright as a human.

So, I can see that the second version of this is offering a song to an audience, rather than strutting about or collapsing at the importance of it all. In the second version I'm still connected to emotion, to myself, but I'm not doing the scared child/crazy ego thing. So how does this translate into painting?

The great thing about painting is that you can do it alone, so you don't (necessarily) have to be distracted by the sense of being judged in the moment by others. You can become immersed and forget all that while you're  actually making the work. Perhaps the 'for the audience' thing comes around in painting when you exhibit or try to sell. I suppose the real issue here is whether or not your ego is sitting on the edge of the picture frame, waiting to be pumped up or to defend itself to your audience. Does it matter whether or not people say it's 'good'?

No. The work has been offered to the audience as the work, not as you. I guess this is the way in which painting can be 'for the audience'. It's subtle.



  1. Have often thought about the different perspectives of creativity such as this. It is more important that you do it for yourself first. People will see your passion, and those who are on a similar wavelength to you will resonate with you. But, I can understand that artists want to have a good living too. It is a tricky balance to maintain, :)

  2. Hi Susan, Thanks for commenting. Yes, that's the problem, isn't it? It's massive and unresolvable!



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