At some point in every creative project, the most important technique you will need is trust. All the screen printing classes, the poring over design books and, for some more assiduous than I, the precise annotations of careful chemical experiments with dyes ( Leah Higgins, you know who you are) will only get you so far. Then, you need trust.
You need to trust that although, although, at this precise moment, you have no idea what you are doing, when you get started the muscle memory will kick in and art will come from your frozen fingers. You have to trust that experimentation time is not wasted and that repeated failure, will, if you keep going, result in a sudden gleeful explosion of utter success. It is essential for your sanity that you trust that at least one person in this heaving world will declare that what your produced made their day better.
The trust-need can sneak in at any time but its power is greatest at the beginning, I find. Which is why I am here at my glass desk with my wireless keyboard and not at a paint splattered counter in the wet studio. It’s because I have written for longer and so I am more familiar with trusting that words will come out than art will come out. At that work bench, I need still to summon huge reserves of trust. I need to trust that if I assemble a collection of vaguely associated material – some silk brought home from Hong Kong, a tube of buff tinted paint, a skein of Chinese red silk, a pack of rough khaki paper – that somehow these will, with play, combine into a frame-worthy design. I need to trust that I can achieve this alchemy fast enough and then repeat it often enough to get a large room filled with a solo show by the end of April. And then I need to trust that people will spend their time and energy climbing up the staircases to the third floor of an old banana warehouse to see it all. At the keyboard I know by now I just need to sit down and start to type.
Fortunately, trust, is not an elusive quality. We do it all the time. Every time we stand up we trust that our femur will not crumble to dust and see us plummet to the floor. Whenever we order a skinny grande cappuccino with extra cinnamon, we trust that our brain has not been injured and will still allow us to form words. Each time we bite into a chocolate cake we trust our tastebuds will communicate to us the expected sweetness. Actually, that is a very bad example because I did once gift beetroot and feta cheese muffins to a friend who mistook them for raspberry and that was, by all accounts, a nasty moment. But generally, culinary exceptions aside, day by day we trust in all sorts of things, without even thinking about it.
So why do we find it so hard to trust in our art? Why so much procrastination to start? Why so such angst about what others will say?
There are issues of upbringing – , the unkind primary school art teacher, the dismissive parent. Issues of societal values placed on art, issues of confidence and personality. The self-appointed power of the Art Police. All of those excuses. And more. However, I think there is one simple answer, within which also lies the antidote.
When we were tiny, walking, talking and trying sold foods were all big deals. Then we got used to them and they became automatic. Trust is a matter of habit born of repeated experience. To motivate myself to start a new art series I need to trust that if I start, the same thing will happen as when I started last time, i.e.. that 21 completed overhead railway themed canvases now sit on my counter top. The quote ( usually, but probably incorrectly, attributed to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe) which I added yesterday to my new website landing page was no random choice:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it.”
It is no accident either that professional careers are often referred to as a practice – a law practice, a medical practice, a veterinary practice. How do you get the confidence to slice a man’s brain open with a scalpel? To know your advice not to contest an adoption is correct? To approach a charging hippopotamus with a flimsy tranquilizer gun? You practice. Not those things exactly but smaller things, things with the same muscle movements but less at stake. If you can tranquillise a cat, you can tranquillize a hippopotamus. It’s not the animal that matters, it’s your ability to trigger the gun.
It’s the same with art. I’ve never done a solo show but I made my debut twelve-inch art quilt once for the first Twelve by Twelve challenge and really, it’s the same thing. More of it, bigger, repeated. But the same. It worked then it will work now. People were nice then (even after the muffin debacle), people will be nice now.
And so, having convinced myself, it is to the studio I go. Trusting.