“This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.”

– DH Lawrence, Studies in Classical American Literature

Trying to create good art takes you to some uncomfortable places. It’s not like “work”, or school, where it’s usually right or not, hit or miss. It takes some serious striving, some detailed asking of personal questions, uncomfortable silences. It demands that you ignore yourself while very much being, plunging cold and hard and blindly into something that you must accept to be true without looking at it.

I know a trained designer, an art school grad, who refuses to draw, to paint, in spite of his college work being pretty fine. He believes, he tells me, that only The Excellent have the right to produce. ‘Shouldn’t all others strive?’ I ask. And surely the most talented must also strive? Something which is genuinely effortless lacks depth after a while [I had an oyster-esque reaction to Mozart for more than a decade – and still feel sick at anything in A major].

But no: he wears proudly a shimmering mantle of idiot amateur, a ritual cloak for the unquestioning and foolish worship of others’ talent. It’s not an admiration; it’s adoration. What’s my problem? I think that it doesn’t allow for humanity in art. It ignores the happy truth that nothing is flawless and nothing should be; that glory is in what is actual (“I am I”, to quote Lawrence, above). Don’t take away the excellent, for goodness’ sake: but we need weird averages, the unsettling terrible, the cringe-making bad work as well as the “bloody good attempt”s.

My friend’s is not as unusual a view as it sounds: just think of the very acceptable snobbery shown towards amateur dramatics, or retirement water-colourists. (Watch out for the sneer of the person who won’t try, where fear of failure seems to grant licence for faux superiority). Amateur art and crafts attracts such reaction in a way never suffered by other amateur past-times (OK, maybe knitting gets away with it…)

Let’s remember that there’s gold in the trying, in brave (or couldn’t-care-less) acts of self-revelation. That every Genuine Great Talent (tongue firmly in cheek for these capitalisations, in case you hadn’t guessed) has experienced profound self-doubt; that there was a moment when they were first recognised and before which they had not been. The recently deceased Beryl Cook and the very-vivid Jack Vettriano are incredibly popular, but spurned by the intelligensia. Remember that and sharpen your pencil with care (and creative intent!).

With a smile to Beryl Cook.

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