A Self-Hating Bunch (or ‘A Thought Strikes Me’) – By James Bovington

Look! A Cliché!
The Scream (Edvard Munch, 1893)

Artists are a self-hating bunch.

That’s the prevailing notion among the ‘normals’, anyway. By ‘normals’ I mean people who don’t consider themselves artists or ‘creatives’, although I think Mr. Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, put it best when he said art is “…whatever we do after the chores are done.”

The most common conception of an artist is a brooding figure in a dark room, slashing yesterday’s paintings with a steak knife. It hasn’t been helped by the sheer number of artists ‘back in the day’ that committed suicide or spent their lives in self-inflicted exile and hermitage, or the vast number of people these days who seem to think that by pretending to be psychologically damaged or dark they can join some exclusive ‘Artist’ club and their work, no matter how lazy or bad, will be somehow ‘valid’.

Enough inverted commas. All of that is wrong anyway.

What some people see as loathing directed inwards is in fact something entirely positive. Here’s an example from my own life:

I used to be rubbish. I was a terrible writer; an ok poet, but my prose was bad, plain and simple. Reading back through some stuff I found fairly recently proves this to me. I’m not going to post any here, it’s too painful, but trust me. When I see the kind of dreck I used to put out it makes me ashamed and angry. This is where the disconnect happens between ‘creative’ minds and others; the creative doesn’t see that as a negative emotion reflected on oneself, they see it as a negative emotion cast solely on the article in question. It’s a realisation that you used to lack the skills you now have, and that you have improved and, crucially, will continue to do so.

I’m pretty sure a few years down the line I’m going to come across a notebook filled with scribblings from around now-ish and hate them with a passion.

I know exceptional artists who basically refuse to draw because they aren’t ‘good enough’. This might be a confidence issue, but I know these people, so I know it isn’t. It’s a desire to constantly improve. An attitude that is entirely healthy for a creative person. If you have a set point in your mind where you think ‘I want to be THIS good’, you’ll eventually reach it (slowly, I might add) and then stagnate. If your desire is to improve on your work all the time, you can only get better. When struggling uphill the only place you can end up is on top, so to speak.

The most important thing to remember is that people change, and that includes you. You might really like a certain style of painting one year and then find yourself thinking it’s awful the next. Your psychological state is never the same as it used to be because you learn to deal with, or let go of, issues that used to inform your art. Here’s an experiment you can try if you’re lucky enough to have left puberty behind;

Look through some of the stuff you did during that period of personal turmoil. How much of it would you say is empirically ‘good’? 10%? None of it?

Exactly. That’s one of those periods of life where everything that is ‘you’ is jostling with what you thought was ‘you’, or what you think ‘you’ should be. Your personality is testing the waters, as it were, and art is a reflection of self.

As a result it’s going to be all over the place, some good, most bad, just because your whole self is throwing itself around trying to get a feel for the place. I know the majority of my own pubescent scribbling were confused, self-absorbed and downright bad, and it’s a good thing I know that because that has let me fix those habits over the intervening years.

So, in case you skipped to the end for a swift summary, I’d point out that what allegedly non-creative people are imagining when they hear you describe your own work with flippant ‘Oh, that was shite’-style remarks is entirely wrong, but by no means illogical, it’s just that they haven’t grasped the mindset that lets somebody critique their previous efforts.

It’s always worth adding ‘I’ve learned what to avoid’ or something to that effect, to let them know what you actually mean.

And to you ‘non-creatives’ (even though you don’t really exist), just remember; we don’t hate ourselves. We hate our work.

There’s a big difference.

By James Bovington

P.S. I find that it’s probably for the best to think the word ‘Maybe’ after every sentence of this article to achieve the best understanding of what I mean.


Marketing; An Arid, Lonely Desert – by James Bovington

Atacama Desert (Creative Commons)
Atacama Desert (Creative Commons)

Yesterday garnered an interesting new experience for me, a new aspect of the world of writing that threw me for a loop and no mistake;

Just on a whim I tried to write a little five-hundred word article to use as a marketing tool for my work, basically a little slice of my life involving the product in question, loaded with key words and phrases I could link back to our website. Standard ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ stuff.

That’s not the interesting part; the interesting part is what I felt while I was writing it.

I felt like I was forcing it out, for one, mainly because I was, but I also felt…

Dry, I suppose.

Every sentence I typed felt dry and cracked and empty, almost gritty in my mind. Every time I started a new paragraph I was struck by the mental image of an arid, lonely desert. It was very strange. Almost frightening in fact, in that ‘Have I finally snapped?’ sort of way.

I also got very annoyed with myself, at first for not being able to do the task I set myself with any real passion, but eventually it was simply for even trying in the first place. I felt like I was betraying something ethereal, like I was using my powers for evil. I felt like Superman burning down an orphanage.

I know, I know, marketing is necessary in this modern world, but I’ve conditioned myself through the years to be distrustful of it, bordering on paranoia, and to be annoyed by it bordering on outright hostility. To find myself engaging in it was a little like telling my past self to shut up (although to be fair, he really should have, just not about this), or kicking my inner-child.

I stopped, about halfway into it, and had to go do something silly on the internet for a while just to stop feeling so despondent. I went back eventually and typed a few more sentences, but the feeling came back stronger. It hit me like a blow to the soul.

So now it’s unfinished and squats in my hard-drive like an awful goblin, it’s even called ‘Stupid Marketing Bullshit.doc’, which I don’t remember typing at all.

I’ll get on it eventually. I’ll either continue to force it out or I’ll find a way to make it enjoyable again. I might even have to start over and just write something on a whim, then try to find a way to force links into it in random places. But I’ll get it done.

I don’t know how interesting this was for any of you, but to me it was fascinating that I could have such a powerful adverse reaction to what should be a simple task.

I suppose writing with ulterior motives just doesn’t suit a man who wants to write stories about dragons, crisps, people and THE FUTURE. (‘THE FUTURE’ must always be in all-caps when discussed in the context of fiction. This is a rule I’m establishing right now.) Or maybe I’m being hugely egotistical about my writing and verging on the ‘too deep for you’ mentality that ruins a lot of prose.

Such is life.

by James Bovington