Serious notes on being an artist

After a childhood of adventure novels and Pippi Longstocking, which I considered at the appropriate age of seven to be the funniest thing ever written, I’ve effortlessly passed through a phase of adoration aimed at Agatha Christie and then, come puberty, I – having read The Sorrows of Young Werther one too many times – have irrefutably fallen into the trap of romanticism. The trap that the romantics set up for us, the future generations, is, in my opinion, one hell of a pit that even the most rational of all people have to claw their way out of.

I started believing that if one wants to be an artist or a writer, they should take themselves very seriously and preferably be experiencing some form of serious suffering which would in turn make them a genius if they weren’t already born with the qualities of geniousness itself. I also believed that if they can’t decide just yet whether they like photography or writing, for example, they should make up their mind as quickly as possible and pick one over the other because no one can be or do two things at once. And although I found the artists and writers I saw on television or occasionally met in person incredibly serious, I failed to see the same seriousness within myself, so I tried tirelessly to impose it to everything I did. Of course, those who knew me better knew that nothing of that sort is possible and I, in turn, felt more like a fraud than anything else.

I always thought, if nothing else, the unfortunate inability to take myself seriously as an artist was at least causing me some serious problems.
I will never forget the look on one writer’s face when she asked a group of art students sitting in a circle, my friend L and myself included, where do we see ourselves in five years. She instructed us to chat with our chosen colleague for a few minutes and, luck would have it, she picked L and myself to elaborate our long-term plans for the future first. L and I proudly informed others that in five years, we will definitely stop bleaching our hair and probably have at least one kid each, preferably around the same time, so that we can still hang out together. The writer was left somewhat speechless, as were the rest of the students sitting in the circle. Then one by one, everyone else started expressing their desire to become a renowned artist with their studios somewhere remote and peaceful in the middle of the Mediterranean where they can fully concentrate on their work. Five years have passed, and although I still haven’t got any children crying in my lap asking me to feed them, I am happy to tell you that my hair has not been bleached for the last year and that I have no intention whatsoever of bleaching it again anytime soon, so I guess all is going well for me after all.

However tortuous, I loved being at art school. I loved the relationship we had with our teachers and the freedom we were allowed. Although I wish to retroactively hide most of the work I made and presented in those years, I still remember it fondly too, as those were the first formative attempts at what I later discovered was my methodology. However, the things that I will remember with the most delight will be the moments of play between the pressured seriousness. It will be the late night in the studios before our final show, our works still barely halfway on display, when we very seriously engaged in a chubby bunny challenge, each trying to stuff their face with more puffed corn snacks than the other. It will be the afternoon L and I spent sitting in the yacht pub browsing through the yacht magazines, tearing out the photos of luxurious craft to pin them to our vision boards hanging in our rooms and plotting a plan on how to sell our ephemeral art consisting of discarded debris for millions of euros so we can purchase a yacht together. This might have also been part of our five-year plan, although, as you can imagine, it did not come to life. I will also ponder nostalgically over the night a group of us stayed in the sacred front yard of the Academy until six in the morning because we were so engrossed in a game of ninjas, or the time we got locked up in the building having to wait for someone to rescue us. It will definitely be our trip to London and the silly way we almost missed the flight back and how it made some of us laugh and cry at the same time.

I look back at those moments and I can’t seem to ignore the comic relief they have provided me. Because I felt so disconnected from play and because I felt so profoundly incompetent as an artist, the only place I could find the playful refuge was outside of my own artwork.

I crossed the words joyful and playful out of my vocabulary I regularly used inside my head to make sense of what art is and what it means to me and barricaded them with silly insecurities. I, after all, wanted to be a serious artist. I wanted the accomplishment of being taken seriously and, if at all possible, at least at the end of my life, I wanted to be given the serious award handed over with serious words, serious gestures, serious hums and nods.

Whatever it was that made me think this way, it had nothing to do with the way I actually discovered my work to be. I would go from one thing to the other, from the fabric to the drawing, to the collage, to papers, to notebooks, to things I saw on television, to a conversation I overheard, to photos I found, and I immediately made sense of them by making up a story about them. The pictures would pop up in my head, imaginary people would prop up and whole sentences found themselves forming. I was good at making things up, although I didn’t quite understand what that meant because I assumed my abundantly made up reality was how everyone goes about life. I loved handling objects, playing with them, making them fit in. The scope of my play was enormous, it was all around me, and I found myself encircling things and words until the circle seemed just as it should, rearranging them until you could feel the harmony of things and words in perfect order – which had meant the playtime was finally over.

These days my life is one of a child turned artist turned grown-up. Although I pay my mortgage on time, although I do weekly food prep and pay the dental insurance, although I have a job and occasionally find myself in conversations with people who refer to art as a passing hobby, and although on occasion I’m back there at the bottom of a pit of self-doubt dug out especially for me by the unlucky coincidence of having grown up surrounded by Goethe and BrontĂ« sisters, I understand now in the clear-headed moments that I am a child pretending to be an artist pretending to be a grown-up. Luckily, I’m good at make belief and all the pretending doesn’t really bother me. I find it all to be play, even the food prep and the dental insurance. My place is on the inside looking out with my mind all wired up, encircling things, rearranging them until the harmony would be reached, until the play would be over.

June 15th 2021