Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the art that I have made over the years. I am proud to be able to say that for over fifteen years now my work has been my art.
It has paid the bills. Put food on the table. Turned a profit. It is a significant watershed moment in the life of the artist when they can say that they have found, finally, after much trial-and-error, a way to diversify their artistic talents enough to say goodbye to the Day Job for the final time. Farewell, call centre! Bon Voyage to ironing other peoples clothes! Don’t let the door-to-door selling of dusters hit you on the way out!
I do not mean for my levity to belittle that moment. Because it is very rare, and some are never privileged enough to experience it. For others, it is a birth-right. I am amongst the weary warriors who have hacked through the brambles and thorns to a clearing in the woods where making art is possible. But, even if you do get there, mighty warrior, there will inevitably be compromises.
I remember when I first met my husband, who did a degree in Economics at University many moons before, he asked me whether I had created a Profit & Loss (P&L) for my current creative project; at the time I was putting on the UK premiere of an award-winning Canadian play at one of London’s finest fringe venues, The Finborough. Now, until then the extent of my experience with any kind of sums to do with my creative output was strictly reserved to that of the back of the proverbial fag packet or beer mat, let alone an Excel document. It’s a wonder I had survived creatively at all the previous decade and a half prior to meeting him. So he patiently sat me down at the computer, and together we worked out the potential profit and the potential loss of the show and I have included this ritual in my work ever since.
I do not live in a world of infinite financial resources, and I never have. If I want my art to be my work then I have to create art that pays for itself. And in order for that to happen, I need to make art that somebody wants to buy. And so , to compromising. Do people want to hear the songs I desire to write or the stories I want to tell? Is my screenplay part of the current zeitgeist? Am I a voice that the nation wants to hear from right now? Must my art be the size, shape and length of a TikTok video in order to push through the millions of other voices, opinions and hearts calling out today? And will whatever platform I choose to share my art on ultimately strangle it to death?
I often tell my students the story of the writer Jeannette Winterson’s experience of adapting her novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ into a six-part television screenplay. She says it was a little like someone coming into your art gallery and saying ‘I love that vase in the window. Can you smash it up and make it into six cups and saucers for me?’
I am not proud of all of the pieces of work I have created in the past 30 years. Which artist can say that they are? I’m particularly saddened to admit that the P&L-of-it-all has all too often had a much larger voice than the creative ones at the table. How many times have we heard that the BBC is run more by accountants than creatives these days?
As I write this I am going through the grieving process of losing my mother, along with the all the things so many of us have lost in the past twelve months. Adverts for funeral homes and restorative yoga flood my News Feed. I’m expecting a catalogue for Doctor Scholl sandals to plop onto the door mat any day now. It stands to reason there be a shift in my values right now. A questioning of who I am, what I want to say and my contribution to the world outside. And, of course, the world outside is going through some pretty enormous changes itself. Tectonic, some might say.
So, along with the regret of certain art-works comes a desire to leave behind the style and substance of some others, which were perfectly acceptable at the time but which no longer serve me, and would leave a sour taste in the mouth of today’s audiences. We’ve all seen how television shows like ‘Friends’ have been greeted by a younger generation thanks to Netflix et al, and how that younger generation has been left feeling cold by that which we once lauded as the best comedy for a country mile.
As an audience, we want a piece of art that speaks to and of us, in a way relevant to today. And as an artist, I want to create work which nourishes both myself and my audience, wherever they might be found. Compromise will always be a part of the equation, as will an Excel spreadsheet of some kind. But I hope as I navigate these fresh waters in the coming months and years that I strike the right balance and do not sacrifice the integrity of my art in order simply for it to be seen.
One thing is for sure though, first there must be a piece of art before it can be rejected. And rejection has always been a part of the process too, sadly. My fears around rejection and how much more of it my artist heart can bear will have to be the subject for another day.
See you next time, if we’re saved.