If I might begin where I left off in my last post: ‘After a lifetime of following the prescriptive pathway of an artist, my inclination is now to diverge from this and forge my own path’, I’d like to share a few emerging reflections and images.
I mentioned that I’m finding this stage of my creative journey both ‘exciting and unsettling’. Perhaps I should unpack this description. I’m finding that as I slowly move through my 70s, less and less in my life strikes me as exciting any more. It’s all become rather predictable and tightly controlled – mostly by me I might add. Since Covid and the lockdowns, we’ve all had to come to terms with new social behavioural patterns and how we understand and see our place within them.
I’m speaking personally here, but I feel as if I’ve been pulled out of my pre-Covid life and unexpectedly dropped into an alien landscape. I can’t transport myself back to who I was, unfortunately. I miss that person. But equally, the signposts in this new landscape are not the ones I would actually want to follow. They all seem rather irrelevant and depressingly predictable. But perhaps most significant in all of this, is my growing awareness of diminishing time and just how precious it is now, in this new landscape.
And so, this brings me to my opening points about avoiding the normative and forging a new path for yourself. For me, this swings between feeling energised and optimistic to a state of tentatively groping around in the dark. Now this might seem obvious to an onlooker, but believe me, it can be quite confusing on the inside looking out.
However, I’m learning to see and understand these apparently opposing states as interconnected and that, if I’m to develop as a creative older woman, I can’t have one without the other. And that means reassessing what really matters to me at this moment in time. Do I actually care how those who hold sway over our creative pathways might respond to this? Pre-Covid, yes, I probably would have. But now, I don’t. What I do care about is my own creative wellbeing, as this flows directly into how I feel both physically and psychologically about myself as an older woman.
It might be helpful if at this point, I introduced a couple of images which illustrate what I’m trying to say.
As part of my creative process, alongside my material making by hand, I use simple photographic and digital imaging tools to help me reveal what my eye can’t see, but which my intuition tells me is there just underneath the surface. Last week a really interesting image emerged from this process (Fig. 1). But rather than leaving it just as it was, I tried to ‘improve’ it by adding effects and turning it into something else: a picture, something pleasing to the eye (Fig. 2).
The following day I looked again at both of these images and slowly realised what I’d done. Rather than trusting my intuition with the first image and leaving it as it was, I’d reverted to a way of working that I used twenty years ago. I’d really enjoyed doing this back then, it felt exciting and new. But as I looked at the image now (Fig.2), it looked dull and flat and definitely didn’t embody my current self.
Sometimes it’s difficult to trust what you intuitively feel but can’t see. The old normative ways of working can seem very reassuring, especially if they brought with them some degree of success. But I understand that I need to feel that energised optimism and the tentative groping in the dark if I’m to move forward in an authentic way. And seeing these two images in front of me clearly told me that.
If I might add a third recent image: when I’d created it, I intuitively knew that it truly embodies my emergent 70s self (Fig.3). It’s a signpost in my landscape. What feels even better is that I put it there.
I think that this new (for me) path will continue to cause inner tension between who I was and who I am. Decades of obedience to a laid down, well sign-posted creative path, can’t be just wiped away. It feels counter-intuitive yet it’s the only way forward for me.