I've had a website for years and it's only just occurred to me that I can do a blog on it, so here I am, blogging. Consider this an induction post. You're in for a great read.
It's likely that you've come across this blog through my website, so you may be familiar with who I am and what I do. But I'll tell you these things anyway, just for larks. I'm an artist living in Preston. I make cartoony, campy carnivalesque work that’s heavily drawn from English folk tradition and medievalism. Recently, I’ve become more interested in the punk sensibilities of folk than the actual aesthetics and traditions themselves, which have been mythologised and appropriated by far-right populist groups.
Of course, I myself do appropriate ‘folk’ iconography and have been using solo morris dance performances as an attention-getting way of entertaining people for a couple of years now. I want to stress again that I consider these performances to be primarily a form of entertainment - more like cabaret than ‘performance art’. I used to be afraid of ‘being a bit cabaret’, but now I fully embrace and (for want of a better phrase) lean in to that aspect of my work.
I’m conscious that artists have been known to use the ‘folk’ thing as a potentially patronising way to explore the lives of so-called ‘ordinary people’ and I don’t know what to do about this. Nobody owns folk - and, again, I believe that it’s more about an approach to making things rather than having a particular aesthetic (though clearly these can feed into each other - something I’m investigating) - but I also think that it can be misappropriated, which is why I started doing this nonsense in the first place. I still don’t have the answers.
I also teach film/moving image in the fine art department at the University of Central Lancashire. I'm only a few weeks in to this role so it's all very new and scary and I feel like a fraud. I'm struggling with basic stuff like remembering students' names, realising that I am in fact old now and my students don't share all of the same cultural references as me, as well as procrastination to an astonishing degree.
The procrastination thing is particularly alarming to me, since I am characteristically a precrastinator when it comes to work/project things (but certainly not everything). I get panicky and I over-compensate and then I end up creating far too much content while still feeling like I've not done enough and I myself am not good enough and they've got the wrong guy for the job. Dude, I hear you say, that's totes classic female socialisation right there (though this behaviour is of course neither universal within nor exclusive to this group). I know, man. I know.
Recently, however, I’ve completely gone the other way. In fact - and I don't mind confessing this to you, reader - I'm procrastinating right now. I thought writing about it would somehow help. Turns out that the only action that actually will help is doing the thing. Last week I pushed it and pushed it and pushed it so far back that I had no choice but to call upon the Higher Powers to use me as a vessel by which I might do the thing in a haze of self-loathing at the very last minute.
Procrastination is a manifestation of that anxiety that I hinted at earlier in reference to my precrastination habits, but at the other extreme. It's a way of forcing constraints upon yourself so that you have no choice but to produce something that is 'the best you could do given the circumstances'.
It's extremely destructive in this form. It's stopping me from delivering something that I can confidently say is good in of itself, and instead I'm made to present something that is an impressive accomplishment given that I left it till the last minute. It's a way of stamping caveats and disclaimers all over the shoddy final outcome. The thing is only good conditionally.
And don't get me wrong: I'm all about creating rules and constraints to organise and structure my work, but, for this to actually service me, I have to be actively choosing those constraints, as opposed to being backed into a corner by my own anxiety. As well as this, procrastination can be a positive force in helping ideas to grow and develop, but this only works if you’re not avoiding the work completely and utterly, and have at some point engaged with it enough to actually be able to put it on the back-burner.
Avoidance is kind of my schtick at the moment and I'm going at it hard. You name something, I've gone and avoided it. I've almost come full circle to the point of 'owning' this behaviour, though I'm not really sure if things will get better once I do that.
I can take a guess at one of the main contributing factors behind this, so let's cut to the chase. I experienced something quite traumatic earlier this year and as a result have developed a form of PTSD. It's a cruddy thing that I’m very much still living through, but it’s also quite interesting once I’m able to look back at it objectively, so it's likely I'll be bringing it up here and there as this blog progresses.
Oddly, before any of this happened, I was writing (and had tentatively published a tiny bit of) a quasi-shakespearean-fantasy-ish comic about someone experiencing PTSD. I was aware that, while I definitely had experienced trauma in my life, I'd not experienced the symptoms associated with the condition as a cluster for an extended period of time.
These symptoms, by the way, can include avoidance, hyper-vigilance, extreme anger, flashbacks, palpitations, panic attacks, nausea, loss of appetite, and so grimly on. So a few months ago, I kind of just...stopped making work, and then these things I'd been reading and writing about started to happen to me.
It was disturbing, as I'm sure anyone who (perhaps foolishly) ties a lot of their identity up with their capacity to be productive and make work will recognise. I genuinely felt at times that the I that I'd always identified with no longer existed. Which sounds very melodramatic now I look back at it. But, despite this belief having no basis in reality, the feelings of distress I experienced as a result of it were certainly real.
I'm now back to making things that could charitably be classed as artwork (cartoons, ugly clay heads, cheesy garageband ditties and such) at a fairly steady pace, though, at present, there's still not a huge amount of balance going on over here at Spencer HQ. I'm very self-involved and I need to get out more and, I don't know, maybe attempt to enjoy myself a little. Sounds wacky, I know.