Recently I read a Facebook post by an artist, an older woman, where she writes of her despair when faced with what she calls ‘the void’, where she feels she ‘has no sense of skill to fall back on, no accumulated sense of accomplishment’. Writers would call it the blank page, for artists it’s the blank canvas. There were well over 50 replies to her post, including my own, all agreeing with her and finding resonance in her brave words. Reading the post prompted me to reflect on how I’m dealing with this now, in my own creative practice in what can be described as a turbulent culture of rising inequality and constant uncertainty. In yesterday’s Guardian, the poet Ben Okri put forward his thoughts on how artists should respond to the climate crisis. His kind of creative commitment would demand a singular focus and a great deal of courage.
It occurs to me that I no longer have a clearly defined goal, there is no fixed end point and as a friend recently pointed out to me, I therefore can find no sense of closure in the work I’m creating. All my life I’ve been goal driven but at this point in time, it just doesn’t feel right, at least not for who I feel I’ve become. I wonder if this happens to most older artists?
I’m trying to feel my way through this now in my ongoing creative work, as I use it to find out what I genuinely feel, deep down. I’m uncertain, I blunder forwards in the dark and this can feel solitary and very bleak at times. Yet most of those 50 odd replies on the artist’s Facebook page seem to echo my own current fears of feeling a bit lost. But what’s intriguing is that much as I used to imagine how I’d feel at this point in my life, as an older artist, it seems that I got it wrong. I didn’t see this shift in my perspective coming. I’d imagined that I’d continue to work the way I’d always done, create – exhibit – find validation. But it’s not like that anymore and I’ve struggled with trying to adjust to this new way of being, one where the old ways no longer feel appropriate to who I’ve become and indeed want to be, going forwards. Yet without any of the normative, traditional forms of validation, self-doubt can loom large and overshadow everything else, exactly as that older artist wrote on her Facebook page as she lamented over the futility of it all. And yet, knowing this, we feel compelled to keep going, as I do now.
So, I’ve created my own small ‘goal’, one that feels relevant now and this is to learn to create a series of art video vignettes. I’m hoping that these will help me see my unfolding ‘narrative of ageing’ in a new light rather than one based on preconceptions. This is something that if it works well, I could easily share online and through this, I might even feel a sense of validation. But maybe this no longer matters to me, I suspect that it doesn’t. All I do know is that the old way of working isn’t working any more, it feels almost too easy, too comfortable and too familiar. Now, I need to be as honest and authentic in my work as it’s possible for me to be. I am my own judge and at this point in time, nothing feels more challenging than that.