I woke up and felt different, I lay for a while, scanning my body, my thoughts, wondering where the change lay. The events of yesterday lined up to be inspected and the suspect was instantly recognisable. My latest painting, the canvas I have been working on for a week…it was guilty, the cause of this unsettled nagging feeling, the worm of doubt burrowing deep. I don’t like it. I don’t like my latest painting. I woke up, and instead of being impatient to pick up the brush, I was inwardly groaning at the thought of battling my way insistently through the process of trying. Trying to make it work, trying to grasp the elusive wisp, the little mischievous Sprite that dances around the canvas and gives it that air of satisfaction, of completion, of ‘just rightness’ .
This is a surprisingly rare feeling for me, I am so used to the process of creating being the thrilling slide of a helter skelter ( my iPad wanted to make that heater skeleton ) a helter skelter ride…start from one point, knowing exactly where you will end up, a few twists and turns, but a rapid ride to your inevitable destination, and an adrenaline fuelled sense of satisfaction and closure.
But this is not happening today, I have got stuck half way down. It has happened before, but usually on something in my sketchbook that hasn’t gone quite right, or has bored me…so I just turned the page and started something new.
Why haven’t I done that already with this painting? Oh, I know why, and it’s almost text book psychology 101. I can see the opening paragraph of chapter 2 entitled “performance anxiety” . It would read thus…
” When an artist goes public with their work the natural spontaneity of the creative process gets caught in the spotlight of an imagined public gaze. All previous methods of creating freeze into fear ridden lumpy awkward movements, fumbles, where before there were caresses, teeth clashing, where before there were tender butterfly kisses. The pressure of performance causes a once passionate, pleasurable act of joy and creation to become a mumbled apology of disappointment and shame.”
My stubborn inner artist raises her head, disturbed by the clamour of frustration. “This will not do” she frowns. She surveys the scene of despondency and apathetic despair and sets to work. ” Come on,” says she ” Time to work this out” And hauls me to the tiny screen, almost places my hands on the keyboard and waits, hands sternly on hips, until I reluctantly and sulkily start tapping out the words, the words that will tumble around and around until they stand to attention and show me what I need to know…
Every artist goes through this, every artist has abandoned canvases that don’t work, poems that didn’t scan, books that refused to tell their story. It is not a waste of time or paint or money or ink, it is an experience that has moved you forward in your craft, lessons have been learned that may not surface for years. It is time to shrug and sigh, turn the canvas to the wall and move on. Forget about the watching public, the imagined audience. They don’t really exist, they’re too busy with their own lives, their own failures and successes. So sigh some more sweet artist, take down your sketchbook and go and play, return to the tender caresses that you know work for you. Not every performance has to be earth shatteringly amazing, oftentimes the quiet, simple act of self love and comfort is all you need. Turn to it now and enjoy the process once more, find the love, find the thrill.