I have a scar on my left knee. It has been there for more than 30 years.
I was about 7 when I fell hard onto a Yorkshire pavement and grit worked its way deep into the graze. I raised such merry hell about having it cleaned, that my mother missed some of the dirt. There is nothing left on the surface now, just a faint black line drawn deep into my flesh but I carry a piece of Yorkshire within me. Perhaps that’s why I chose to return here, like a fish heading home.
The need to make art is like this. A scar that heals but remains visible. The grit in the oyster.
Artists talk of ideas that irk and niggle away at them. ‘The work just wanted to be made,’ they say, ‘I was haunted’.
Haunted, niggled, irked, irritated. A pearl making oysters from dirt.
Oyster with pearl by Max Garçia via a Creative Commons license
I recently reread some of my old sketchbooks from college and was deeply amused to read page after page where I was stuck, frustrated or worried about my work. It made me laugh because they were exactly the same things I’d been thinking about my current work.
Seeing those same emotions surfacing a decade apart, it suddenly forcibly struck me that my process is rooted in struggle. Sooner or later, I will always doubt, I will always resist, I will always feel anxious because this is how I make my art.
While I don’t enjoy it, I’ve come to recognise that it’s not a problem. Sure, it would be nice if work flowed easily from me like water from a unblocked fountain but I am not that person. I am a worrier and a maker of lists. I am often mired in procrastination, doubt and fear. Fear that the work isn’t good enough, fear that it isn’t interesting or valid or conveying what I want it to say. Fear that I don’t have anything to say anyway and what the hell am I playing at with my silly sequins, jars and pins?
And it is easy to fear those fears and then to shy away from those hard places. But I’ve found I need to sit with those fears or I can’t make my work. The work comes from that grit. Maybe you’re the same?
On that note, if you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to watch this Louis C.K. rant about the importance of sitting with pain.