A lovely artist said this to me in my early 20s - I was interviewing to be their intern. A bit naive and pretty arrogant, 20 year old me was weighing up the value of the opportunity; ‘Is this work a bit lightweight? Is this work about really important things?'. I think they would have been quite shocked to know my thoughts; this awkward little person stumbling through ‘I used to, sort of, make stuff’.
I’d not made work for a few years, I wasn’t sure if I really had the right, and if I did, I wanted it to be good. I had no confidence. It’s much easier to be critical than to take your own risks, and I was entirely stuck.
I needed someone to give me permission.
‘Once an artist, always an artist!’ he encouraged me, and his generosity, despite my bad attitude, was so valuable. The validation without criticism or question was exactly what I needed. The phrase stuck in my head and eventually I started to think ‘I didn’t go to art school, but maybe, actually, I can still make stuff. And if you swallow your fucking pride for a second, you might have the courage to start’… But that was just me.
Maybe being called an ‘artist’ isn’t the kind of permission everyone needs to start creating more, but I think its an excellent place to start. It’s permission to experiment, to make mistakes, to think more and to be curious about everything you do. Artists are trained to explore themselves and interrogate the meaning of what they do, developing a ‘practice’ of their own. Art-as-practice means our focus is not so much on the creation of an object, but the exploration of concepts, experience, meaning. It's constant curiosity, (like we all had when we were kids). And wouldn’t it be great if more of us had permission to do that?
I’d love to see what happened if everyone thought of themselves as an artist:
What do you create?: Spreadsheets? dinner? dirty laundry? events? deals?
When we start to think about ourselves in terms of our creativity - as producers rather than workers/ consumers - we might realise a new kind of power. We might think more about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of what we do. Life gets more exciting - we might become more motivated, more deliberate and we might find more fulfilment.
We’ll definitely become more creative, overnight.
I want to encourage more art to be made on the fringes of the art world. We need to shake things up, bring more voices into the chorus. So, if you’re curious, if you’re dabbling with something outside of work, if you'd like to develop your creativity, I want to give you permission:
You are a spreadsheet artist, and you can change the world.