The more I talk about creative processes with other artists, writers and entrepreneurs the more the word “fraud” comes up. Apparently every one of us doubts our own creative ability, questions our role in society, worries about being ‘found out’ for making things up as we go along, and wonders if we shouldn’t just go and get a ‘real job’.
It seems we don’t advertise these thoughts much. Writing this blog post, sharing this ‘glitch in proceedings’, makes me feel quite vulnerable. It’s hard to know how much to keep in, what to leave out, how far back it all began – and whether all this navel-gazing isn’t just a bit too indulgent.
However… it’s been a vital part of my journey and ended up fundamentally shifting the focus of the project, so I think it’s important to put it out there. I’ve written up some general thoughts on rejection & creativity. This post is about belief as it relates specifically to my crowdfunding campaign.
Producer / Creative Producer / Creative
My mother was an illustrator, and also a single parent. Life wasn’t especially easy growing up, particularly where finance was concerned. She always said “if you can do anything other than be an artist, for heaven’s sake, do it”. I didn’t always listen to my mother’s advice (sorry mom), but it seems in this case those words had gotten through and resided much deeper than I ever realised.
I couldn’t help but work in the arts in some way. I started as a Stage Manager/Prop Maker in Theatre, then moved into Media Arts in a more Project Management capacity. Eventually I gave in to my inner Creative Producer, co-founding the-phone-book Limited. Somehow being the producer-type (facilitating or educating while still being creative) made it all excusable. You can earn some kind of a living helping other people to be creative; you’re buggered if you want to just create.
Creating a reallybigroadtrip
With the-phone-book I had often felt Ben was the clever creative one and I merely put the steps together to realise those ideas. After closing the company I was utterly broken & wondered if I wanted anything to do with Media Arts at all. Suffice to say over the following few years I went through a process of reflection, eventually giving myself some of that creative credit back.
In September 2011 I became a permanent resident on a distinguished talent visa & my Australia Council contract ended. I was free again, this was my chance to return to my creative roots and see what, if anything, might be there. I knew I loved performance, literature and technology and had a few ideas I wanted to develop. I knew that I loved to collaborate, but now I also knew that there was a solo artist ready to start on her own journey too. Scary but exhilarating.
I had nothing to lose; I had no mortgage or kids and being a single gal I didn’t even have to worry about what my partner might think about this reckless decision. I figured reallybigroadtrip would be a great vehicle (excuse the pun) for reconnecting with old networks and seeing what else was out there while I worked out what my own new work might be. I also knew I needed time to learn how to create again. I had been in a creative coma, spending many years repeating knowledge rather than researching and learning new skills. I was a newbie all over again.
My first crowdfunding video explains some of the background to why I created this project (it still makes me squirm to watch; videoing and editing yourself is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever had to do). The point is, I started out making a project that would document the amount of creative digital practice happening around Australia and beyond. I considered that to be an artwork in itself, but knew that was a contentious perspective. The safest focus was from the producer-side of my head – researching, documenting, analysing, reporting. My own creativity could come later.
Before even starting down the crowdfunding route I had applied to the Australia Council for funding (twice) and to NAVA for professional membership. Both rejected me. I hadn’t even started trying to become an artist in my new free life, but felt like I’d had the door closed in my face. I felt foolish, like a child who hadn’t been invited to a party but had cockily turned up anyway and now wasn’t in fancy dress like all the other guests. It was horrible. But I am strong old sod and believed that this awkward fumbling was just part of the process & I’d get over it.
My previous UK based freelance gigs had typically been consultancy, presentations and workshops. Sometimes I would be approached as a facilitator, offering technical troubleshooting around particular projects. Now freelancing again from this country under the technoevangelist banner I was expecting much of the same.
I knew the crowdfunding campaign was going to take up a lot of my time, but what I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t want to work on anything else anymore. Presentations were fine, I really enjoy those. They gave me a chance to share some of my favourite media arts projects and promote reallybigroadtrip, perfect. Meanwhile offers of project facilitation, project management, digital strategy and social media jobs were coming up but I kept procrastinating, putting up walls, and turning the work down. Something was going on but I couldn’t work out what or why.
I hadn’t even given myself permission to make new work; I either didn’t know what work I wanted to make or didn’t have the skills to make the work I wanted to. I had been developing my arduino project with the help of the Hackerspace Adelaide crew, but it was slow going. I had so much to learn and was impatient.
I didn’t have any money and yet was fighting against myself to accept potential sources of income. I was trying to make but not getting anywhere fast. I was begging for money, making videos I didn’t like, demanding attention from all directions and staying in other peoples’ homes, while all I wanted to do was hide under a blanket. And I was supposedly following my bliss – WTF?!
I launched the campaign from Adelaide and (in line with my strategy) had so far directed most of the attention there. My next stop was Melbourne, where I was able to attend Next Wave Festival as an audience member. I was also presenting at Emerging Writers Festival. Both were my first visits to these festivals, despite knowing a few people involved with them or based in that fair city. I was looking forward to it; this was going to be a fresh start. I had launched a special series of rewards (the Melbourne Challenge) designed to maximise documentation opportunities and create noise around both the participating artists and my own campaign.
About a month into my campaign I arrived in Melbourne. And I freaked out. All those doubts about my own creativity flooded in like a Tsunami. Here was a bunch of real artists making and sharing their real work. What was I doing there? As I met new people, did I have the right to introduce myself as an artist? What could I show to explain my practice? What art was I even going to be making? My shyness took over and I wanted to hide from the crowds. I’d completely lost all belief in myself, my creativity, and the whole campaign thing. And absolutely no one had taken me up on a Melbourne Challenge!
Running the campaign over that time was hideous. If you don’t believe in you, how can you sell yourself and your vision to anyone else? I knew I had to make myself look like someone fun, creative, a worthwhile bet, while personally having no belief in myself at all. I really wasn’t a very happy bunny. Fortunately I was staying with some very dear friends who let me hibernate. I gave myself permission to be broken while I worked it all out.
Eventually I realised what was happening, why I kept blocking myself, why I was so miserable. My subconscious had always been dominated by my inner-producer. I always knew what the producer would do. Now my subconscious was being taken over by my inner-artist. I had no idea what was going to happen next. My mum’s words had inadvertently created an inner battle.
It was war.
There was a petulant child stomping her foot. I wanted to make. Not just document other peoples’ work, or facilitate other peoples’ work. Make. My. Own. Work. It was all too easy to drop into facilitator role and so damned hard to be such a novice again (especially at my age!).
There was only one solution: shift the focus of the project. I was no longer “getting a bus, rigging it with recording equipment and driving around Australia documenting creative digital practice”. I was going to get a bus and drive around Australia making and sharing digital art with everyone I met along the way. Making art, not just documenting it. Such a simple, tiny change, but such a fundamental one.
Lesson Four: Trust yourself and listen to what your subconscious is telling you, even if it’s scary… in fact especially if it’s scary.
My biggest regret was not seeing as much of the work I wanted to catch at Next Wave. When I finally regrouped I felt a little silly, but I picked myself back up and went out. I talked to people about what had happened. I opened myself up and shared my pain, first privately with colleagues or during one of my favourite works at Next Wave (the Stream the Boat the Shore the Bridge, which made me cry). Then a little bit more publicly with my next video (below) and during my artist talk at Adhocracy. And now here.
In doing so I have discovered that WE ALL DO THIS. We all doubt ourselves. We all freak out. We all get frustrated by not being good enough, fast enough. It’s OK. It’s better than OK… because we’re fucking TRYING. This pain shows me I’m doing the right thing. I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of myself for both going through it and for sharing it.
And then I started knitting… a simple act of creating, making, that was productive, instantly rewarding and has connected me to a whole group of new beautiful friends. But knitting deserves a whole blog post of its own…