Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rewriting The Rules

Lately I have been anxious about whether my work is 'good or 'right'.
I'm a freak for precision so I am often tested by the idea that not everything in life and art is definitive. I like things to be spelled out. I want a set of rules. The malleable, the uncertain, the non-specific – they discomfort me.
I recognise the irony in this. The art I love most resides in the grey areas: it is often imprecise or ambiguous and nearly always flawed. The idea of 'good' or 'right' has nothing to do with art.
Still, my anxiety shaped the way I first painted: a highly structured, restrained, and repetitive process, at once physically demanding and mentally soothing. It enabled me to be assured that each work I completed was, according to the rigid technique I employed, painted correctly, regardless of subject matter. I paid lip service (like every artist) to not being bound by rules but it took 10 years to come to terms with the fact that my work was constricted by hundreds of them, all of them concocted in my own head.
Maybe this is why I had these words tattooed in blue ink onto my upper arm: A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi. Alis volat propriis. (In front is a precipice, behind are wolves. She flies with her own wings.) It wasn't enough to remind myself of them from time to time, I had to make them permanent.
Yesterday, my boyfriend sent me a quote from the American choreographer, Martha Graham. The more I read it, the more I feel that it is the only rule any artist needs.
"You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. It is not your business to determine how good it is, how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. But it is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly to the urges that motivate you.
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through another medium and will be lost. The world will never have it."


matt f64 said...

Amen Martha Graham

Barbara J Carter said...

One of my favorite quotes. Just do your work, it's what you're here for.

Solemn Reverie said...

love the quotes.

Reminds me of something I always tell myself when I don't know where to start:

"begin at the beginning"