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Such Fear

June 7, 2011

Why such fear?  Why do I find myself continually battling a deep dread about having my work go out into the world? I’m not writing about the work I do as a teacher. Though that work is always challenging it does not make me fearful.

But when I commit myself to making performance – as a writer (rarely nowadays) as a director (more often) and as a performer (as is the case with Echo Chamber) I have to battle deep layers of dread.

A dear friend of mine, years ago, talked about wanting to ‘keep her head below the parapet’ – wanting to make art without, somehow, entering into the public domain. Another performer – a younger person – wrote to me of her sense that ‘Art’ was so precious, so valuable, that she doubted her ability to match the demands that ‘being an artist’ made on her. So she was making no art.

I feel as if my skin is too thin, as if, like a haemophiliac, the slightest cut or graze will make me bleed to death. And what are these deadly cuts I fear? Disapproval. Contempt. Indifference. Patronising encouragement.

I fear these things from others of course, but how much more I fear them from myself. The voice of a childhood steeped in ‘don’t get too big for your boots’, ‘don’t stand out’, ‘know your place’….. And all those comments merging to a drumbeat of ‘you are not good enough, you are not good enough….”. The ugly, destructive, inhumanity of the English class system.

Is it alright to admit this? Even in this most private of public domains – the almost-unread blog? Or even here should I present the facade of the confident and professional artist, selling my product into the market place like a politician selling policies?

I can look for validation externally (and I wrote a little about this in my post on ‘bitterness’). But it is a dangerous place to look. Despite working for twenty years I am not even on the bottom rung of the ‘official’ funding ladder (yes, another Arts Council rejection because, this time, I am unlikely apparently to fulfil my artistic objectives). How do I respond? By angrily dismissing the judgement of others, asking ‘what do they know…?’ By nodding my head and accepting that I must be second rate, otherwise I would be funded by now, after all look who else gets money….. It’s a pit of despair. I look externally for validation and find only a reflection of my own self-doubt.

Is it alright to admit this or should I simply acknowledge that I should alter what and how I conceive of performance so I can offer the state’s funding authority more of what it wants? Am I allowed to admit to being hurt by continual rejection by those who are employed to ‘value’ art? Even writing this I feel dread nestling round my fingertips.

The truth is that if I stopped making art almost nobody (except me) would notice or care. So where is my validation?

Of course, it must come from inside. Of course I must value my own work and give it the respect and attention it needs. Or give up.

I teach the centrality of pleasure – a focus which makes some people treat my work as if it is trivial. Is it really trivial to identify and value pleasure in the face of rejection, indifference, cancelled meetings, unanswered emails, insincere praise…? Is it trivial to set up and deliver another project in the face of enormous indifference, in the heart of a culture by whose values I must, as an artist, be seen as an abject failure.

Is it OK to write that I am a failure? Is it OK to experience anger when I feel patronised?

Yet I am unwavering that pleasure must be at the core. Even in the pain of rejection and the dread of public humiliation (or worse, public indifference), there must be pleasure. There is pleasure that after struggle comes relief. Pleasure that in struggle comes revelation. Pleasure that when the noise of contemporary indifference and a lifetime of self-doubt can finally be quietened, there is still, always and crucially, my work. I make my work and in that there is deep, essential life.

Pleasure is not about an absence of suffering, but about inhabiting that suffering without self pity, without compromise and with a commitment to try to smile.

So why write this? Because I want to acknowledge fear. I want – maybe need – to know that it is fine to be fearful and yet to do ones work anyway. That I am sometimes angry is not something to be ashamed of. That I am hurt when people patronise me. I don’t like it when my emails are not returned and meetings, at the last minute are cancelled. And that none of this has anything at all to do with the importance and value (or lack of importance and lack of value) of the art I make.

Last night I recorded a piece of music. I started writing this post because I wondered why I am scared to have anyone hear it. Perhaps they will consider it ‘not good enough’. But I listened to it four times this morning and it evokes for me the world of Echo Chamber – the insistent presence of a fractured tune in the head of a fractured man. I loved recording it and I love listening to it. I look forward to developing it and to using it as a basis for rehearsing a section of the work.

Is it OK to admit this? That I like my work? Is that OK?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stacey permalink
    June 7, 2011 5:57 pm

    Struggling, not knowing when you are “qualiified” enough to say “I’m an artist” without feeling a fraud. Struggling at the beggining of a new journey that feels quite lonely. These are are times when I think that you gain the strength and courage the next time feelings that are fearful and self critical emerge.

    I know that the struggle is worth it when even the smallest little revelation in my work or when movement and spoken language play freely from me. I experience in that moment is pleasure and acceptance of self and acceptance that dread, fear and struggle may be lurking round the corner.

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