Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m an artist from the Isle of Lewis, but have spent the past few years living in Glasgow while studying Communication Design at the Glasgow School of Art. My final year at art school was cut short when the first Coronovirus lockdown happened. I moved back to the Isle of Lewis with my husband and two cats, and took up residence at my inlaws’ caravan park, unsure how long we would be staying. Nearly a year later, I’m still here.
Experiencing lockdown in a rural, isolated lodge was a world apart from the busy, often chaotic life I had been living as a student in Glasgow. During lockdown the world around me felt very still and this stillness offered the space to reflect on the way I had been living my life. With my usual routine eliminated, no art school projects to do, no essays to write, I was confronted with the messy state my creative life was in when I found myself unable to make artwork outwith the art school environment. I was too afraid to pick up my camera. With no tangible deadlines to motivate me to make work, there was nothing to help me push past that fear. But, this made clear to me that my previous motivation for making artwork was in seeking approval of those around me, whether that be classmates or tutors, not for myself. So during the past few months I have tried to commit to unlearning this mindset. I’m still very much a work in progress, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far.
Lesson Number 1: Perfectionism is bad
I always thought that being a perfectionist meant being a hard worker, being committed, and was part of being on the journey to mastering a technique. So I wore perfectionism like a badge of honour. It meant I was trying. At art school, I was generating work, I was getting a good grade, so I believed that my creative process was working fine. But when all commitments keeping me accountable for making work were removed I found myself unable to make any art which came from a place of creating just because I wanted to create. I was worried that without the support of a tutor and having not picked up a camera in a months, what I would make would wouldn’t be up to standard. The idea of making no work was less terrifying than the prospect of making bad work. During my creative paralysis I came across a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic (which I highly recommend to any creative person) which unmasked perfectionism for what it really was and helped me begin the journey of making again.
“Perfectionism is just a high-end, couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified.” — Elizabeth Glbert, Big Magic
Fear had hold of my creativity for the past few years, and Gilbert offered an antidote to this in her book by introducing the concept of creative living to me, which she explains as“any life which is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” When I first read this I felt encouraged to nurture the curiosity in my creative process. Looking back on photographs I took in art school, I remember being so cautious with every photograph I took, always putting energy into looking out for what was going wrong with the image and how to fix it. Now I want to create a space where I can follow the flow of creative curiosity.
Lesson 2: Be open to surprising yourself.
“Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery” — Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
The support I have received through the An Lanntair menteeship program has helped me pick up my camera again and begin to reshape my creative process. One challenge that my mentor assigned was to go and take some portraits: no grand concepts, no extravagant props, just see how creative I can get with a model and a camera. The attitude of having no clear goal in mind created a space where I felt I could play, and I surprised myself during this shoot. I moved, followed my model, lay on the ground, made fast instinctive decisions; resulting in me shooting in a way which I normally wouldn’t. And though the images are not refined, they have an energy and mystery in them which intrigues me. That shoot proved to me that ‘thinking’ your way to a conclusion is restrictive, and when you let surprises occur it can point you in a new and exciting direction.