I often wonder if it would be enough to create in a vacuum, devoid of both spectators and competitors. Where manifesting something would be a pure exercise in saying something about the world or yourself to yourself. Where the critics and the eyes of others didn’t exist, where the work wouldn’t be judged on any spectrum of quality, except one of your own making.
Would we find it as satisfying? As necessary? I’m not sure.
I think what makes art worthwhile is the fact that it must be shown, commented on, observed. Because fundamentally, that’s vulnerability.
Without the social aspect, there is no vulnerability, and without vulnerability, there is no risk.
In a way, vulnerability is what gives art its power.
But we attach baggage to art too, baggage that doesn’t help or strengthen it. We want success, we want accolades, we want to be known for our work. We want to be “vulnerable” but not too vulnerable; enough to be called brave, but not enough to open our truth and hearts up to merciless criticism.
Despite our desire to open up, to be true, we have an equally strong desire to viciously protect our core, to guard that last little shred of ourselves. Then, when the criticism inevitably comes, we can sit back and take it, knowing we didn’t fully expose ourselves. There is still plenty of us left that has not been judged, condemned.
It’s understandable though, isn’t it? This fierce tendency towards self-protection? It’s something we all do, it’s fundamental to human nature. To expose our whole selves to public condemnation runs directly counter to our evolutionary wiring.
It manifests as the piece that is too derivative (I have been guilty of this); after all, when someone else has been praised in the past, doesn’t that mean it’s safer for you to do something relatively similar? It manifests as the work that never gets done; it is easier to pretend your idea is brilliant in your head, than to create it and see it’s fallen short. It manifests as the false bravado and wordy artist statement; you’ve clearly read your theory and are intelligent, therefore how could the work possibly be considered bad? It goes on an on, to a million different forms of self-protection, but with one common thread: you are afraid of cutting the bullshit, and making work that is fully, completely vulnerable and true to you. Brene Brown’s words are particularly relevant:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure… (And) courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Who are you? Who are you truly? What sort of art do you wish existed in the world, deep down? If you were to work with courage, with humility, and with utter honesty, what sort of work would you be making?
What sort of art do you like, but are afraid to admit it because it’s unfashionable? What do you find yourself drawn to, but don’t see as a “legitimate” form of expression? How are you held back by the biases of those around you, and the art world at large?
And here is the hardest question: How different is the work you're making now from the work you wish you had the courage to create?