Artist’s block

I’ve mentioned before the fact that I don’t always find it easy to make work, and I’ve often wondered why it’s a problem so widely recognised for writers but not for artists. Then the other weekend I read Angela Bennie’s interview with Michael Gow, and felt a great sense of recognition of what he suffers as a writer! Phrases like ‘the permanent migraine of not creating, or nothing coming out‘ and ‘the vicious bastardry of being an artist‘ rather leapt off the page…

It is not that I feel as if I am a victim of my desire to make art, but I have a terrible frustration over the fact that ‘being an artist’ is hard to define, and the shape and nature of making art is also difficult to pin down. Not being aware of how it works or where ‘it’ comes from is frustrating, and the trouble is that none of this is new. There’s a lot of writing out there by and about visual artists that describes individual battles with the creative force. I should probably have read some it before daring to mention it myself.

Part of the uncertainty comes from the effrontery of saying that making art, or music, or writing, is intrinsically different from other sorts of labouring. But I’ve had other jobs and none of them has twisted me around inside like this. When I was a programmer I agonised about cutting code; when I was a recruitment consultant I struggled with deadlines and difficult clients and awful applicants, and I got stressed about whether I was recommending the right person for the right job. Running my own businesses entailed all sorts of creative activities from designing packaging to making products, and I had to psych myself up for selling every time… I had moments of joy, moments of despair and interludes of quiet achievement in all of them, but each and every one relied upon identifiable, assessable skills that could be evaluated, labelled and reported upon if need be. Making art is nothing like that. Yes, having a flair for self-promotion or the skills to speak clearly about your work in public are very useful – in the end you’re reliant upon selling yourself and your ‘product’ unless you’re very idealistic or at least independently wealthy – but the act of making something is, for me at least, almost beyond words. So it’s nice to see something written down that reflects something of how it is for me.

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