Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Self belief and the Artist

I know that on internet groups people often don’t like you posting about the nuts and bolts side of arts practice, except where it concerns technique- and that everything is about sharing and the good things and not about bad things and disappointments. But I am writing a blog, technically a journal of sorts and if this is truly my journal than I want to write about the good and the bad- as I would in paper journal that I also keep.

Yesterday engendered a very real crisis of self belief. I went to bed early after having sat through three lots of piano practice and the angst of upcoming piano exams on Friday, cooked dinner and just couldn’t cope with any more. This may sound self centered but bear with me a moment. Actually the crisis is still ongoing and because I went to bed so early I woke really early. The log trucks started rolling at about 3 am which woke the roosters in the whole neighbourhood, which then woke the birds- you get my drift. So I got up and discovered that those log trucks are using our dirt road- no wonder it is getting rutted and no wonder the noise of the passing trucks is waking everyone-but as it was dark I could not see whose truck it was, they are not supposed use this road Now there is nothing like a bit of outrage….

So self belief- is what I have been thinking about – mine got rather shaken yesterday, more so than I had anticipated because in a way I would have been very surprised to have gotten the residency- it was more the fact that I got very close that shook my confidence. So why did it get so shaken? Well I have been pondering this since 3 am and first there are a number of facts;

1. Australian women artists are amongst the lowest paid women in western democracies

2. Australian women artists are the lowest paid women in Australia.

3. Australian women artists earn half of what Australian male artists do.

4. Artists are earning less now than they were 10 years ago

Then some other observations. When I studied law at university, if I studied reasonably hard then I could expect to pass, if I studied a lot then I could expect to do reasonably well- or certainly this was my experience- effort and work ethic got results. However no matter how hard I study or work at my art, I cannot have the same expectations in my arts practice, so that when submitting for funding or even for selection each time I get a rejection it is a failure no matter the effort or the work I have put in – it is like I have failed in my approach to my work ethic or my effort ethic- and this is where the crisis really starts: the thought that the work stinks emerges. Another factor is each time you are rejected you have spent money in putting things together and another avenue is closed from which you may expect some return. But then I looked at the links of the artists that were selected and whilst I am not making judgements about the work- I know what I submitted stood up in the company- it had philosophical underpinning and it has a place in future textile practice and at the very least could be used in the fashion industry. I am also rather glad I have shown the work to people for I know that my believing in the work is not a delusion. I also know at least one of them has had previous Ozco grant.

But still there are very real chinks in the brittle armour that is my self belief in my work. I don’t think I will get much done today ( for a start I got up way too early) but I now have to rebuild- and frankly I am finding it harder and harder to dig into myself to find the wherewithal to keep going and rebuilding after each disappointment. The person I contacted at Ozco was very positive and encouraged me to submit again- but it takes a lot of energy to get an application together- making sure the wording is right, making sure your images are the best they can be. The other thing is, do I use the same body of work or do I need to create another “new” body of work? And if it is to be new I am not sure I have the energy– I had hoped to be developing something I had already begun but which needs further research and time to come into its full vision I have for it.

And then ultimately I stand staring at that long tunnel with its litter of rejection slips and crumpled hopes and I wonder whether it is truly light at the end or just the emerging dawn which will bring children getting ready for school, food to be found for lunches, dropping off at the school bus and then the empty workroom which yesterday had seemed a different place than it is today. Today I face it with trepidation for what had seemed so certain yesterday now seems shallow and “decorative”, and I am not sure I want to make it. And ultimately no matter how many groups there are each artist stands alone and faces their crises alone. I often crave a mentor- but really what could a mentor advise when I am feeling like this? I would like to think that Gandalf comes riding on the dawn with the Roherin, but life is no fairytale and what I need to find is the energy and the will to just do it.So I guess I had better get to it.


Val said...

I don't know you but I always view your work with the vision that you are one of the 'big' quilt artists and that you know where you are going. That is what comes across in your pieces. Don't lose your self confindence! You are good and the fact you have been rejected by these people doesn't alter that fact. Personally I wasn't overly impressed with the names you posted. But you are dealing with humans and humans are frail. Either keep trying and condition yourself to accept rejection or think of some other way to move on. Write a book? Make a DVD? Don't stop trying! A mentor would pick you up when you fall and dust you down!

Anonymous said...

Dijanne, you probably don't know me at all but I am familiar with your work and I check your blog regularly. Today, while spinning, I kept thinking about your current feelings and seeing an analogy between how you feel and my overtwisted-in places, turning-on-itself-in-places yarn; you currently are overwhelmed, need a bit of time and/or distance to absorb things/emotions and let them level off inside you, until they can assume a more even, less sharp/caustic/ distorted shape than they have at this moment. I live in a country where I never get to use my birth languages -- but just because I do not speak them, it does not mean I don't know them. I, for one, am glad I get to read about you and see your work. Be gentle with yourself.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you are having a crisis of confidence. I read you daily and sometimes can't take my eyes off the beauty of what you make. I'm a quilter from New York and I am far from an authority but I know talent when I see it and you've got buckets of it. Don't loose faith. After all, we make beautiful things to please ourselves as well and you should put aside all the negative and live in the moment and create. You're so incredably talented it makes my hair hurt. Snap out of it! artful regards, dee

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Dijanne: I know we all have down days, and self-doubt, and yours lately seem to be a bit more down. I think maybe it is harder on you because you are the primary bread-winner for the family, so the stress of providing for the family is compounded by each "sorry" letter, whether to a show or a residency.

That said, you're more out there in the art world than 99 plus percent of everyone working in textiles. You've had the residency at Chassy, you've curated international shows (one of which I got to see in San Francisco), and every time I see your work I wish I were earning more so that I could afford to buy a piece. I love what you are doing, and am inspired by it... I love seeing the photos of the gum leaves and the pieces that will become part of something, and will relish having seen the in-process bits when the piece is done.

Get some sleep if you can (even if it is, gasp, in the daytime!), take a break from the studio if you need (hot tub, an hour with a book and a cup of tea, whatever) that will let you feel like you've indulged.

Then go back to the studio... maybe even start something completely new and different, or something that you actually want to work on. And remember that there are a whole LOT of folks out here who admire not just your work but you, too.

Hugs, Sarah in Camden, Maine

Elle said...

The easy answer would be for me to tell you that it'll be OK. However, I know how it feels to always have this nagging doubt about who you are in this world and as an artist.

What I can tell you is that I regularly read your blog. You are talented and your work is beautiful. Take a break. Reconnect with yourself and others. Give yourself fresh perspective and the art will seem new and fresh too. It's OK to wallow for a moment, but you don't want to stay down in it, trust me, lol. Being a creative person in a world that doesn't always seem to value it is hard, but you must believe in yourself and others will too! Take care.

sharonb said...


I am catching up on my blog reading when I encountered this post - I think many people do not realise the how hard it is in OZ to earn a crust from serious textile practice. At times I have felt very similar to what you have expressed here and although other textile practicioners support each other we need more support from the public in the form of cold hard cash to enable people to develop their practice.

I don't know what the answer is and 'keep doing it' wears thin at times although that is possibly the only advice that can be offered.

Also often this is seen as a simple crisis of confidence when it is not - put simply there is not enough arts funding or support from the general public for serious arts practice in OZ. The average income of Aussie artists is $20,000 well below the poverty line. I think if a society wants to have a rich cultural life it needs to support its cultural workers ie those that actually are in the business of making something not those that are in the business of making something from the backs of the makers.

This will turn into a rant if I am not careful - bascially I wanted to say I have often felt the same way and I seriously often question why I do it. (Probably that is why I have headed into recreational texiles ) but I don't know what to say - every year we see artists head back into the paid workforce rather than remain in their studios. It is a great loss but unfortunately the cost to individual artists is simply too great. Even teaching is now on shaky ground with textle depatments in our art schools closing down/cutting back all over the country. I think we sometimes ask too much of our creative people.

I don't know what to say - other than to chime in and hang in there and keep working - but I am not sure it will get any better and I have absolutely no idea how to change it. Grim I know