Getting Attention Will Make You A Better Artist

I saw this TED Talk the other night, and I had a few thoughts that I’d like to share with you. Joseph G-L seems like a very nice person, and showing the vulnerability in the talk that he did was admirable, but while on the whole I agree with his fundamental point, we disagree in a certain respect. Watch it and see what you think…

Joseph thinks that craving attention is a bad thing, that acting (or doing anything creative) just for the sake of getting attention can’t be, and is not, good for your mental health. And he’s right. But he has been an actor since he was a very little boy, and so he has not lived any length of time without having a creative output. He doesn’t know what it’s like to wonder what it would be like to have people take a critical look at what he does, because he’s been a working actor all his life. (I’m making certain assumptions, by the way.)

Joseph says that rather than craving attention, we should be paying attention, which is a clever way of saying we should be focusing more on our craft than on what others think of us, and reaping the rewards of that focus. Again, he’s right. But I think he’s too down on craving attention, which, after all, is a most human desire.

I totally get that being creative is its own reward. I also totally get that the happiness that derives from creativity is NOT through getting lots of attention, but the actual act of being creative. He talks about that beautiful, blissful state that we call “flow”, the meditative trance-like state that paying close attention brings. And I know what he’s talking about: we’re on the same page there.

But I was in my 40s when I found a wide audience. I was in my nearly-fifties when I started coasting – when I reached a certain level, and things suddenly started to happen faster and more easily. That would not have happened had it not been for my initial desire to get attention. And now, in my early fifties, sketches come out exactly as I want them to.

Let me explain. We all know that attention is addictive, but I maintain that this is a good thing, that is, if you very much want to become a better artist. Why? Because you become better at your art through the volume of your output – the quality only comes after a heck of a lot of quantity. This isn’t always true, of course, because you have to combine looking outwards with looking inwards in order to mature as a creator, and not everyone knows that, but it’s by and large true. It was only after I discovered social media and the pleasure of being Liked online, that my output started to raise. Then the comments started to come, and it was as if I saw myself through the mirror of others’ eyes for the first time, which is what you aim for as an artist anyway. It felt good, and so my output rose further. Then something strange started to happen. I fell into flow – that meditative state – more and quickly every time I started to sketch, and that was in itself addictive. So I sketched more. And I got better. And I posted more, and I got more love, and so I sketched more, and got better, and posted more, and….Eventually my own voice started to make itself heard. It was a bit fuzzy at first, perhaps a tiny bit indistinct. Now it’s clear as a bell. Sketching brings me great joy, I’m the best artist I can be and it’s all because of that craving for attention almost a decade ago.

So might I suggest that you start seeing that need for attention as a necessary motivation to improving your skill – it’ll make you the best artist you can be.

Ironing Is Good

I was never much of a one for ironing. That’s not because I had better things to do, or because I found it boring, even though I may have told myself those things from time to time. It was because I couldn’t get to my ironing board. There was always a mountain of crap on it and the laundry room it was in was poky and overstuffed, so ironing was always a battle between the iron, the cord and stuff that threatened to tangle my feet and make everything fall. So my children never really saw me ironing. Then I brought the ironing board to my beautiful new studio, where there is plenty of room, because I was sewing something and you need to iron a lot when you are sewing a garment. Then I noticed some dreadfully crumpled bedlinen and was inspired to iron it. My daughter Liv came down to the studio for a visit while I was getting stuck into smoothing out pillowcases and sheets, and she asked if she could have a go, never having ironed a thing before.

She took to it immediately. “Now I understand why women were happy to let their husbands go out to work!” she said (she’s very funny). Then I told her that you can put eau de toilette into the iron to make your clothes smell nice. She went completely still, staring at me with wide blue eyes. I knew she’d like that one.

I told her I want to put more into the sketch, that it was a bit dull just with the iron and ironing board, so we discussed the possibility of drawing her in a lovely apron, holding a whiskey on the rocks for her returning husband, make-up perfect so as not to offend the poor tired man.

That was all well and good, and we were amusing ourselves, but it was a real pleasure to see the open delight with which Liv took to what could be thought of as a womanly chore – then again she was only playing at it (as was I, really). Let’s see if it lasts!

Airbrushing Out The Truth

My husband Marcel, our son Paddy and I met my brother Malachy’s friend José Luís and his girlfriend Carmen for lunch the other day during their visit to Dublin. We had a gorgeous lunch, then went for a coffee afterwards in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. I drew José Luís and Carmen really fast, and began to draw Marcel, who was sitting to José Luís’s right. But he is reluctant to be drawn at the best of times and I knew this wasn’t one of the days he was inclined to cooperate, so I left him unsketched. I went back to the place we had coffee a few days later to give a nice backdrop to the sketch, and sat at the same table, but this time I was alone, so I turned the table for five into a table for three, ordered a brownie for myself to furnish the table a bit – and voila, you have a heavily-faked scene. I feel uneasy about it – as if I have done a Stalin on my own husband, airbrushing him from the photo, so to speak – but I didn’t have much choice at the time. You can still see the ghost of an outline of Marcel, if you look carefully under the top of the middle window. Stalin did a better job but then they were as gone as it’s possible to be.

Thanks to the sketch I will always remember that afternoon with José Luís and the charming Carmen. And Marcel will live to appear in another sketch, I swear.


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