Explaining is hard

One aspect of being an artist that I have always found quite hard is explaining myself. I seem to have to do it a lot. I don’t like explaining myself to artists, art students, tutors, my mum, my brother, friends or strangers. It doesn’t matter who asks me the dreaded questions, I am always gripped with fear: ‘What is it that you do?’, ‘What are you working on at the moment?’ or (much worse) ‘What is your thesis about?’ 

My friend Steve just doesn’t get my art

I think there are two issues at play which explain my paralysis. The first is impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome haunts my daily life. I walk around life feeling as if I am a fraud. It doesn’t matter how well I do with my art, how many reasonable marks I get, how much praise I might receive, how many exhibitions I take part in or how many projects I am involved in, I feel as if I am gate crashing the art world and someone is just waiting around the next corner to shout ‘aha, gotcha!’. In my head, I’m not a real artist. All those others are real artists, I’m not. I’m pretending. I feel as if I actually spend more time working, hula hooping, looking after children, driving children around and day dreaming than I do ‘arting’. A real artist lives, eats, breathes art, surely? I don’t. I can’t. I haven’t actually arted for a month now. So when I get asked ‘What are you working on at the moment?’ my in-my-head answer is ‘nothing at all’ and my external answer comes out as ‘well, erm, I’m kind of doing some sort of research into, well you see, my art practice is all about things, you know, objects…’. By this point I’m lost, they look lost, they frown, I see the frown, my belly flips with disappointment and I find I am trying desperately to think of a change of subject to, err, what to eat for lunch, where to go for coffee or whether they have just had a hair cut or not.

The second issue is that I have always felt there is a missing link connecting my brain to my voice. I know in my head what I am interesting in, researching, thinking about, writing about, drawing (sometimes) but I can’t articulate it in any intellectual way vocally. I can write about it. I love writing. I can wax lyrical for pages and pages about art. I love blogging, I love writing my thesis, I love thinking about art, but I can’t speak it. The words just tumble out in a different order to which they were formed in my head. And once I start to try to explain myself, the spectre of impostor syndrome jumps back up again and takes over and the situation is far worse. I find myself completely lost in the forest of doubt and meaningless words (as you can see I’m still fascinated with metaphors, even really bad ones).

I end up feeling a bit sad and disappointed in myself. Why can’t I just talk about my artistic interests with confidence and enthusiasm? I feel enthusiastic about it but it comes across as extreme doubt. If I look as if I doubt myself, then the ‘other’ people will doubt my integrity. There is also a fear biting away at me that what interests me is extremely dull to others. I worry that they just won’t like it, or worse, won’t get it and they will form a negative judgement on my intelligence, or perhaps even my sanity.

So I need to learn to care less. If I care less, the words may flow easier. In the words of Alan Bennett: ‘You don’t have to like everything’. I should remember this. For years, my mum told me to ‘paint pretty things’. She didn’t used to get my art (the good news is that she does get it more now). My brother, also, has questioned what I do. My goal should be to get him to get it. But, now I think so what if people don’t understand what I am doing. It adds to the challenge (i.e. getting my brother to go ‘ohhhh now I see it’) and, ironically, the more confusion I am met with, the more I want to do it to beat the confusion. Who wants to produce art that everybody gets straight away anyway? I’ve written about this before: if everyone gets it, then you fail. If there is doubt and questioning, then you pass.

I love what I do, even if I feel like the biggest gate crasher at the wedding (yes, I have actually done that, once). ‘Who is that person?’ they might cry. But sometimes it is the gate crasher who proves to be the life and soul of the party. Perhaps I need to just aspire to be that gate crasher.


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