(or Raw Creativity is a Playful Tool for Self Care).
A part of me flinches when I shape my mouth around the words “I am an Artist.” Artists are special, anointed, they possess GENIUS. They generate the stuff that is CULTURE. Sure, what would I know about that? The Imposter Syndrome makes me cough and splutter on the word “Artist” when I try to assign it to myself, in the same tortured way Gollum hacks up his name in The Lord of the Rings. (Inner narrative – ME: “But, I got a degree, and a masters, and I went on to do a PhD, all in the creative arts…. There was a chapter about my work published in a book….” IMPOSTER SYNDROME: “Nope, not enough.”) Maybe if there was a support group for artists with imposter syndrome, I could take my turn, and begin my story with “Hi, my name is Maria, and I am an artist.” Maybe the repetition of the phrase, and the validation of others, would help to remove the burden of ‘not enough’. I feel like I wouldn’t be alone at this meeting. I suspect there are a lot of very creative people who are hiding their talents in the sand, because like the servant given talents in the bible story, they do not believe that creativity is abundant. They know it to be precious but believe it to be very, very rare.
Why does this feeling of being an Imposter, on my own, hard-won path, sit so deep in my psyche? Is it because society puts artists on a pedestal, while it trains the vast majority to be mute consumers of the MAGIC they produce? Is it because I peered down a path that emerged after my visual arts degree, and having decided to avoid it, escalated my commitment to a bad idea? (Through a lens distorted by my own drama, I spied a landscape of suffering, scarcity and cut-throat charlatans, and fled for what I saw as the more culturally relevant ground of music. I was young. I needed the misplaced ideals). Maybe this feeling of being a fake sits more heavily on my shoulders since I became a mother, and my sense of identity and purpose took some seismic tremors. Maybe it’s because my tendency is towards broadening, rather than focussing, trying different media, trying different instruments, working in the round. I’ll be a long time acrueing the supposed 10,000hrs needed for mastery the way I go on! Whatever the culprit. I’ve had enough of this nebulous monster that is The Imposter Syndrome. Off with its head!
This year’s First Fortnight festival gave me a platform to contribute two pieces. The Yoga Drawing Jam and Filleadh Cholmcille. Both pieces look to give creativity back to the masses, printing a licence for ‘having a go’. In my video introduction to the former, I demonstrate Qi Qong movements to set the scene for playful loose engagement, and use a quote from Samuel Beckett, (“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”) to neutralise any anticipatory anxiety that might come from reopening those potentially long-closed doors to creativity. Truth be told, I was full of trepidation myself the day I recorded it. It was over a year since I’d spent anytime drawing, and (forgive me Inner Child, for I have sinned), I’d let many years lapse before that blissful workshop with 9 Lines the previous August. My rustiness showed, but I left the offending scribbles there, warts and all, for all to see; not because I don’t know any different and couldn’t discern good drawing from bad drawing. I did it because a risky part of me seeks out challenges, outside my comfort zone, so I have to lift my game in the moment. I did it to be authentically able to say ‘Go on, have a go, I am.’
Filleadh Cholmcille, when it is realised in 2021 will work with a more specific licence for creative play in the form of ‘Works in Movement.’ (I borrow the phrase from Umberto Eco’s 1979 essay, The Poetics of the Open Work.) Works in Movement give the ‘spectators’ a ‘construction kit’ from which they craft their own work, and in so doing, shift them from mute members of a consuming audience to engaged, expressive, participative co-creators. The project draws its inspiration from the fact that the Donegal saint wasn’t only the figurehead for a raft of artistic innovations that led to the creation of many of the country’s most treasured cultural riches, but what is more, he was himself, an artist. He could sing, write poetry, do calligraphy, maybe he even illustrated manuscripts, but it’s difficult to be sure since fact and fiction merge in his story, which bridges the eras of oral and written Irish history. The subject of creative openness, it seems, made him wildly exercised, and legend/history tells us that he felt strongly enough about artistic openness to have caused the battle of Cúl Dreimhne and probably the first known copyright dispute. My sense of affinity with Colmcille comes from his bold belief in creativity and the open sharing of knowledge, and the fact that he too, was a ‘Jack of all trades’.
Between 2006-’11, I worked to develop an interactive human-scale multimedia tool called the Body Response System (BRS). I ‘playtested’ this with various different groups and eventually went on to collaborate with dancers and musicians to realise experimental performances. One of these called Goitse (2011), with performer Emma Meehan, actually had audience members tentatively joining the unfolding performance, while others played freely with the system after the performance ended. In this way, myself, the performer and the brave audience members all co-created a unique, improvised work of art. A point of departure was a wish to create some kind of movement-driven antidote to the sitting/watching model that is so ubiquitous in arts reception, but my guiding light in the process was the naïve belief that we are all artists. We can all dance, whatever rung on the ladder between fluid and stifled movement we might be on.
My research at the time looked at dualism, that tendency to understand ourselves as a divided mind/body, and I flirted with phenomenology, neuroscience, play research and theories like the Embodied Mind to look for solutions to the scar that dualism left in society’s narratives, and my own inherited understanding. I loved this research, but laptops and bibliographies are stilted playmates. I eventually put academic challenges on a long pause and threw myself into yoga. All of the cerebral thought faded as I learned, through tacit experience, how embodied movement can lead you towards a state of heightened interoception, and, in turn, deeply relaxed integrated bliss. Becoming aware of the many horizons of the self (physical, mental, spiritual) as you move through a yoga process is one way of erasing the scar of a divided mind and body. I recommend giving it a go too. You don’t have to be bendy, or slim, or especially serene. You just need a body. (Or can I use Candace Pert’s word BodyMind?)
Another way to get there is by ‘losing yourself’ in the flow state of a playful creative moment. This flow can come from allowing yourself to fully inhabit that instant of raw creativity, where a new thought and its expression merge and pour out freely from the Inner Child, while it giggles in the face of the Inner Critic’s fearful, irrelevant ramblings. Allowing yourself to be creative is an act of supreme kindness to yourself, and an act of audacious bravery. It is an act that dances with the abundant universe and opens the door to magic within ourselves. There are few more potent forms of self-care.