What Have They Got That I Ain’t Got?

Cowardly-LionI’m thinking about how to “Be” an artist – not the doing part and making something, but the act and actions that I employ in the everyday performance of being me.

This has been triggered a bit by reading Gilly’s hypotheses for empowering artists, particularly this bit: “That if there exists a producer who is committed to focussing purely on artist development, rather than on creating a product for public consumption, those artists will become more confident and the long-term effects on their professional practice and public work will be innumerable.

It’s the confidence thing. And I’m annoyed and bored with a feeling of “Not this thing again” by the fact that I think most of my struggles come down to a lack of confidence, because the evidence shows that I’m a pretty confident person otherwise how could I have done the things I’ve done? And yet… I think even when I was a child I recognized that confidence was the way forward and got things done. And I’ve long known that acting in a confident manner is enough to gain some of the benefits of actually feeling confident without anyone being any the wiser.

The problem with confidence is that somewhere in my psyche I see confidence as a gateway drug to arrogance and that scares me. It would literally be the end of the world if I thought people thought of me as arrogant. Not that I care what people think…

But recently I’ve noticed that without a practiced mode of being a confident artist, I’m gently sabotaging and undermining both my work and my sense of self-worth.

For example, I’ve received funding for a very exciting high-profile project and when friends have congratulated me on this my response is mostly, “ Yes, it’s really great and I’m very excited” but then turns into “I mean, I don’t know who was on the panel because it’s quite a weird application and I don’t really know what I’m doing with it and it’s not actually that much money and it might not work out at all”.

Even when this sort of chat is with friends who are probably adept at filtering out my self-deprecating bullshit, I can see that this narrative is damaging. And that’s before I even contemplate if I’ve given this impression of fecklessness to any professional colleagues. If someone was to feed this back to me and accuse me of being unprepared and ill-equipped and making it up as I go along and a bad choice for the funders, I’d be really pissed off and offended.

Also, like the self-help books say (I’ve read a couple), if the mind hears the voice saying anything it will take that as reality and run with it, even if you didn’t mean it.

I think the risk with any creative endeavour, and particularly with experimental arts practices, is that you’re embracing the unknown and deliberately putting yourself into a state of not-having-a-fucking-clue. But of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you’re doing. And maybe other people don’t always need to know about that part of the process all the time. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Which makes me think of The Wizard Of Oz. I watched this film on a loop when I was very young and rewatched it this Christmas. Obviously it goes without saying that it’s great and I love watching it with an adult’s perspective and wondering how much I understood age 3 about the deeper messages within the film and how much I was just charmed by the Technicolor and singing and magic of it all.

Anyway, when they finally get to see the wizard, (who is of course a total fake and played by the same guy who was Professor Marvel in Kansas and also all of the guards in the Emerald City) he tells the characters that they’ve always had everything that they’ve been looking for right inside them. And that all they need to access their own inner power is some small token to prove their worth. The scarecrow gets a college diploma and you remember that he came up with all the plans on their adventure. The Tin Man gets a weird clock in the shape of a heart and you realize that he’s been very emotional all the way through. (A study of the Tin Man as Hollywood “Cissy” to follow…) And the Lion gets a big medal for being Bert Lahr.

So with that in mind I think I need to work on developing my own “Testimonial” Talisman to help me Be An Artist. It will be a kind of performance and it will be a editing of all the thoughts and ideas and worries I have into a more palatable soundbite. It won’t feel inauthentic because it will come from the truth that although I don’t know exactly how projects will happen, I know I have the ability to find the ways through it. And it will strengthen my practice because I will hear myself speaking positively about my work.

Whaddya want, a medal?!! Yes please.

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