One of the advantages of going to art college is that it teaches you to think deeply about your work.
Unfortunately one of the downsides of going to art college is that it teaches you to think deeply about your work!
In art college you learn to be critical of what you make and you learn a language with which to talk about your work. These are valuable skills and I’m glad I was taught them. However, thinking deeply about my work can become a handicap on occasion. I’ve found it can inhibit me and prevent me from starting work or make me constantly question the worth of an idea when it’s in that delicate beginning stage. Six years out of college, I still hear the sceptical voice of my tutor rattling around inside my brain asking me if the work is really meaningful and well-considered.
Of course, it’s important to be able to think and talk about our work; being an artist today requires those skills. But it’s also important that analysing and talking about the work doesn’t impede the actual making of the work. Analysing and making are two very particular skill sets that require different sorts of vision and attention. I run into trouble when I get the order muddled up: letting the analytical side out too early to run riot through half-formed ideas can be fatal to my productivity. Right now I need to make art without second-guessing myself all the time, something I’ve been doing a lot lately.
This has been a hard year for me – I’ve been weighed down with illness, both my own and that of my son. Thankfully he is much better and is back at school now but the strain of caring for him during the first half of this year has left me drained and unwell. Consequently it’s been a pretty hopeless year for art and I am currently in the tricky position of emotionally needing to make art but having very little physical energy to do so.
This tension is expressing itself in a hypercritical over-awareness of what little I am making, constant worrying about what I’m not making, fretting over whether my art is any good and all the rest of the neurotic behaviour to which artists are prone. I consider myself to be fairly level-headed as artists go, yet I still fall prey to these fears and anxieties, most especially when I’m not making art at the pace and level that I need to. I don’t think of my art as therapy but let’s just say that my family have been known to beg me to go to my studio if I’ve gone too long without making!
But although I clearly need to work, I don’t have the energy to do so in any consistent way at the moment. So instead I’m concentrating on improving my health and consoling myself by making little drawings that don’t take too much time or energy. And when my inner art tutor starts muttering that the drawings ‘look a bit Foundation-y’, well, I just grit my teeth and try to ignore him. I’m also a) considering hiding the work from myself until I can look at it with a clearer and calmer eye and b) telling myself that it doesn’t have to be good anyway. Those inner critics can be persistent buggers – sometimes tricking them is the only way to get anything done!