Application Sunday, Part II: The value of knowing one’s self

Metamorphosis_Belgrade_TraceA_May10_IX

Every Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I learned from a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: This week I submitted my work to an exhibition: The Telfer Gallery Open Call 2016.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part II:
The value of knowing one’s self

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto I, Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For a long time the word that could best describe my relationship with my work, and my “artist” identity was agony. Fortunately not in the sense of a maniacal crisis, but more like the silent, paralyzing agony that takes over one that is lost in a dense forest, or tied by an undecipherable riddle. That is not to say that love and desire, in the way Plato means it when he uses the word eros (it’s meaning can’t be fully translated in English), weren’t also there. But this desire to give birth within beauty, recalling Plato’s definition of his love, had become too elusive, too vague, and thus too unfulfilled. Typically I would start working on an idea, or an impulse, only to abandon it, feeling no strong commitment, no strong desire to complete it. And despite the fact that I managed to get into the flow of creation several times and complete some series of works over the years, I still didn’t have the feeling, or the understanding of continuity in my work. I didn’t feel I was building something. All these were more or less perceived as fragments, sparagmata (in Greek), failing to form a picture of self.

Either in the form of incomplete works or as what I perceived to be series of works disconnected to each other, the vicious cycle would repeat itself again and again paving a path of unfinished works, fragments of an unfulfilled desire. A desire that was there, but only to torment me and make me feel trapped. It existed, but it was weak, lacking in direction, clarity and focus.

This landscape of torment and despair (as if the myth of the tormented artist needed any further reinforcement!) makes it sometimes hard even for myself to understand how I reached the point (described in part I) where I began to actively take steps towards getting my work outside the confines of the studio. It would seem that I would have had a lot to deal with before any concern about showing my work would be legitimate. And this is exactly where the key out of that vicious circle lied.

I don’t think that things would lead up to that first artist call application in January 2014 that marked the beginning of a drastic shift, if not in my overall position in the art world, at least in my psychology and sense of control, without the necessary work within.

As much as it was several factors that came into play, the basic prerequisite for a change to happen was the untangling of the mess inside. I had to realize what I wanted, where my heart and mind were as an artist, who I was, or, if this seems rather unattainable considered in absolute terms, what certain fragments of myself looked like and how they connected to each other. This may sound dramatic, and I know I have the tendency of being that sometimes (a friend once told me I have a weak spot for the tragic, which of course I took as a compliment) but I believe there is something there.

When this transition started to happen, from my confused state to a sense of self-coherence, things started falling into place. A newly acquired confidence set in, hesitation and fear started to recede, the paralyzing self-doubting started to dissolve. This allowed for me to act more readily on my impulses in the studio and defend my work more naturally outside of it. The connections between my past works started to become obvious and my desire could at last be traced. I could eventually make out a picture of myself, or rather a rough design (how could it be compete since a proper picture of one’s self can only emerge through a life’s work?). It seems that a rough design was all I needed to begin.

What about you? Was there a point where confusion had taken over your practice and your desire to create failed to liberate you (in fact, it did exactly the opposite)? Does any part of my experience resonates with you and what you might have been through or facing right now? In what ways it is the same and how is it different?

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Metamorphosis/Belgrade, Trace A, Improvisation IX, detail, drawing, 33 x 23 cm, powdered pigment on paper, 2014

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