Dirty Practice Day Three – ‘Fear is the enemy of art.’

The Dirty Practice Symposium today, for me, was all about painting. I love painting. I could paint all day if I didn’t have to earn money and look after children. So, on one level, today was my idea of heaven. All I did, was paint.

My painting. It’s ok. It’s not revolutionary.

However, I am slightly bothered by the lack of adventurousness and lack of messiness in my painting. I am still painting the way I have always painted. I am painting on a surface I’ve been using for a couple of months. I paint in a neat and tidy style and that is my style. Is that what dirty practice is supposed to be about? I’m not sure. Should I be trying to jump feet first and arms stretched out of my comfort zone?

Over lunch we had a group discussion about art education in general, the tutor-student relationship, the experience of this symposium, the nature of ‘results’ and what it means to be an artist. During this discussion, the subject of ‘impostor syndrome’ came up. Impostor syndrome is very common in the creative industries (but also exists elsewhere). It is a psychological term, first heard in 1978, used to describe a feeling of consistent doubt about one’s abilities and achievements. It also refers to the fear of being ‘found out’ as a fraud. It stops us being adventurous. It stops us from jumping feet first out of the comfort zone. The dirty practice symposium is supposed to facilitate that jumping, being free of grading, exhibition and pressure. Yet, for me, it hasn’t done that so far. And that is my fault. We also talked about the fact that tutors and professional artists suffer just as much as students from impostor syndrome. It is a universal experience and time doesn’t lessen it. If anything, the more responsibility and kudos an artist has, the bigger the fear is.

Ironically, a couple of hours before we had this discussion a friend and fellow dirty practitioner had approached me. He’d peered at my painting-in-progress and advised me to have more confidence in myself. He had added, wisely, ‘fear is the enemy of art’. With that, he had left me to ponder. His words stayed with me all day. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear is a huge black cloud that hangs over me, and many others. It has haunted me on the foundation degree, on the BA degree and now the MA. 

I am on this final furlong of the MA now. Can I face the fear? And even if I do, I realise after today’s discussion that the fear won’t leave me. I can’t just shrug it off. It would be naive of me to think I could. Even if I do well and get good results, the fear will always be there and I need to accept that. The ‘fear’ is the black cat to Churchill’s black dog. She needs constant fuss. There is no point fighting her. I may as well accept her and work with her.

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