So… for as long as I can possibly remember – I have had these stubborn stereotypes stuck in my head. And for decades, I have used these stereotypes as yardsticks to measure myself (and my abilities). Of course, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to many of you who struggle with the same thing… the outcome of all my inner measuring and comparing is predictably dismal and self-destructive.
Some of the stereotypes that I measure myself against are these:
- The Real Artist
- The Real Designer
- The Real Musician
- The Real Singer
- The Real Poet
- The Real Writer
Of course… there’s a whole lot more, including “Real Woman”, “Real Wife”, “Real Mother” and “Real Friend”… but we can discuss those another day. Today I want to talk about The Real Artist – and her (mostly negative) influence on my life.
Here’s my illustration of The Real Artist:
To properly grasp what – or who – the “Real” Artist is… it helps if you pronounce the word in the same way that I hear it in my head.
First – put on your most snooty, hoity-toity voice… and then roll the “R” and say “Rrrreeal” whilst channeling the Queen of England.
In my head – “Rrrreeal” Artists have ticked the following boxes:
- They went to art school or studied art at prestigious universities or colleges.
- They paint with expensive oils, using easels… and on “proper canvases”… (properly stretched & prepared).
- Their framers know them by name.
- They know and understand art history – and can use all kinds of very special jargon words to describe the different kinds of art, the different kinds of art material – and which art master preferred what.
- They visit art museums and can give detailed rundowns and clever explanations of each piece.
- They have “proper” art studios where they paint still life scenes and hire art-models to pose for nudes.
- They exhibit at shiny, marbled art galleries – where tasteful classical music is played… and people wearing carefully draped scarves and real leather shoes sip wine, nibble on small blocks of cheese and discuss cultured-things-that-cultured-people-talk-about.
- They win Art-Awards.
- They are recognised by the Art Community – as being “Rrrreal” (I’m still not entirely sure who the “Art Community” is – but I think it has something to do with wine estates, galleries in wine estates, rich people who buy statues for their entrance halls – and special art-experts who tell said rich people what art to buy – sorry – invest in…).
- People pay Rrreal Artists actual – umm… money… for their Rrreal Art (and often-times – LOTS of money – and especially when said artist is dead).
- Very-very Rrrreal Artists (mostly dead people whose paintings are sold for unimaginable sums of money) have… (wait for it)… “A Name”. Investors and art buyers will fall over themselves to purchase art that was created by someone with… “A Name”. Lots of people would love to say that they own “a Picasso”. Not necessarily because they appreciate the painting itself… but rather because it was painted by (gasp!) – Picasso – Very-Very-Super-Special-Rrrrrrrrrrrrreal-Artist! (Not as exciting… to announce that you own a “Costaras”… or a “Hat”)…
Anyhoo… so since I don’t tick ANY of the above-mentioned boxes belonging to my inner stereotype – I long-long ago decided that I’m not a Real Artist.
Here’s a story that provides evidence to support that claim:
When I first started illustrating my Hat-book, I realised that I needed some new watercolour paper.
I went off to specialist art-supply-store and I purchased a pad of watercolour paper. In my (clearly limited) experience… watercolour paper works like any other pad of paper – except it’s thicker and it likes watercolour paints. You paint on the top page… tear it out… paint on next page… tear it out… and so on.
But when I got home – I realised that all the pages in this pad were glued together – well and truly stuck! You couldn’t just flip to the next page ’cause it was stuck to the first page!
So – I returned to the art store (feeling a bit flustered and irritated)… and I approached the art student manning the sales counter… and I plonked the new watercolour pad on the counter… and I say:
“All the pages of this watercolour pad are stuck together!”…
And art-student guy says: “Uh… yes?”
And I say: “You’ve sold me a dud!”
And this guy (and I’ll never forget this) – looks at me as though I have to be the** most painfully stupid human – so much so that he’s physically wincing from the blinding rays of stupid I’m emitting… and he says:
“They’re supposed to be stuck together. It’s blockingford….” (and he points to the words on the front of the pad which says “Blockingford”)
And I say: “It’s what?”
And he says: “A block – it’s a block. The glue is there to keep the pages stretched so they don’t distort when you add water”…
And I’m still staring at him – with an expression that clearly isn’t understanding the point he’s trying to make…
And he says: “Once you’re done, you just use a precision knife, cut through the glue – and your top page will easily peel off”.
Ah. And slowly, the lights flicker on…
I made my apologies and fled… feeling like such a chop!
“Rrrrrreal Artists would never make that stupid mistake!”, mocked the voices in my head, “Rrrrrrreal Artists know what the fuck they’re doing! You are not a Real Artist and you clearly have no idea what the fuck you’re doing!”
So, a couple of weeks ago, I went back to the same store (I don’t know why I put myself through this).
I had become bored with the single-colour wall in our lounge – and I wanted to make a giant messy wall-art creation.
I’ve never arted an entire wall before and I wanted to make sure that I had the right paints, primers and what-not. I didn’t want to go to all the effort of making a giant messy splurb on the wall – only to have the whole bloody lot peel off within a week!
So I asked another assistant (Art Student #2) for his advice on which materials to purchase…
“I want it to be kinda graffiti’ish!” I said, all eager and enthusiastic… “a bit like messy street art!”.
Art Student #2 eyed me doubtfully. I clearly wasn’t fitting neatly in to his Real-Street-Artist stereotype…
“Are you planning to do this yourself?”, he asked…
“And you’ve never done this before?”
“Weeeelllll…” he said, in that high, whiny doubtful tone… “it is a complicated process to get right – and you might just want to go with a professional instead. I have a few numbers for you, if you want…”
Ah. Okay. I see.
So this was like those stories that you hear about where chubby woman enters snooty clothing store – and gets promptly ejected by the “experts” who point her to the “appropriate” store down the road.
In my case: average-looking-woman-in-early-forties-with-two-children-in-tow…. with no clear “artist” identifiers (like tats, edgy-clothing, street-cred or even basic paint-primer knowledge) enters specialist art store and expresses interest in creating her very-first-large-scale-first-time-ever street-art-style wall-art!
And the attending expert – (who looks very arty indeed… with a special brave, shaved haircut, hipster frames and a selection of beautiful tattoos on his forearms) – instantly imagines me decopauging roses onto tea-trays – and decides… that would be a more fitting little hobby for my obviously-not-a-real-artist status… and decides to politely correct me – and direct me towards a more appropriate solution: An Expert. A REAL Street-Art-Specialist… (you can roll the “R” for that one too!).
Needless to say… I reverted into apologetic-chop mode… made some kind of feeble excuse… lingered for a while in the decoupage section… and fled with my tail between my legs.
And then, once home… with nothing more than scraps of old newspaper, wood glue and some mini-tubes of cheap acrylic paint (the type I buy for my kids)… I attacked the big wall in our lounge – and made this:
It’s sorta like my private little “Fuck-you! I’ll do what I want!” to the guy at that store – or any kind of stupid stereotype for that matter (including the noisy ones in my head).
And y’know… if it all peels off next month, then so be it. I’ll make another one. I enjoyed making it. It was fun, it was therapeutic!
And maybe that’s what art is all about, anyway: it’s creative expression. It’s me (or you – or anyone else)… just kinda… being who we ARE.
Fuck all those stupid rules of “ought-to-be-this” and “supposed-to-be-that”…!! My most authentic (and thus – enjoyable) art – happens when I just relax, jettison all the rules and allow myself to just BE.
And sure – my work (and especially the messy irreverent stuff) is not going to be everyone’s cup of proverbial tea. My in-law’s can’t stand it and other people just kinda… y’know… raise their eyebrows and say polite things like… “Oh. Um. Well… that’s… different“…
But I like it (at least for now… until I get bored again). And Nick likes it. And my kids love it. So it’s staying.
And I may not be a Rrrrrrrreal-Artist (according to all the stereotypes and rules and what-not)… but this much I DO know: I absolutely LOVE to create. I live and breathe creative, unrestricted, authentic expression.
And maybe that’s enough. For me, anyway.