Taking the first step and giving yourself permission to “do it” is a big deal. I have often experienced how self-censorship is one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of moving forward. Through the years, however, I have come to recognise it and overcome it.
I remember being paralysed by fear whenever I had to attend live interviews or give presentations to a large audience of senior people. Giving a speech at the launch of a major exhibition would fill me with dread. But thanks to help from the PR team at the Design Museum and supportive colleagues, I learned how to calm my nerves and feel more in control of my shaky voice, so that the nervous tremble has nearly disappeared.
(Above: Alice opening Azzedine Alaia The Couturier
exhibition at the Design Museum)
More recently, before launching ArtULTRA, I experienced what many women experience… imposter syndrome. What a self-sabotaging process! It was hard to work on developing my ideas whilst being plagued by the thought ‘what’s the point of it all’?
I hate to sound like a Nike advert, but honestly, there’s nothing else I could tell myself other than: ‘just do it’.
I know that the same often goes for artists and particularly for those at an early stage of their career. The act of creation is a lonely one, and one in which artists invest so much of their own emotions and personal experiences, that understandably it is a very big step to share an artwork that captures such intimate reflections with the rest of the world. 'How will it be perceived? Will people get it? How will people judge it? How will they judge me?' These are terrifying questions for any artist.
In my experience, I have learned so much from taking a risk and confronting a new situation. As an artist, you might think your art is just not good enough, or, you may fear the critical gaze of others, but don’t forget how much you will gain if you put your work forward and encounter your public. You might find that people love your work; you might meet a group of like-minded artists to draw inspiration from; or you might get feedback and get new ideas to improve your practice. The worst that can happen is that people won’t pay much attention... That's ok. Conversely, exhibiting your work will allow you to externalise your creativity and this will help you assess your own work differently. The first step is to share it publicly and take the risk. Once that step is taken, the way forward is often easier and more evident.
This process is what Matilde Merli encountered as ArtULTRA’s artist in residence at The Hari. Her work is so personal and emotional - both for the viewer and for Matilde as she creates - that showing it to an unknown audience who might not understand her felt like too big a risk. Yet, despite her nerves, Matilde did exhibit her paintings, and she has been surprised by the positive reception of her work at the exhibition organised at The Hari. She also noticed that a lot of fellow artists reached out to her and admired her work, and she found a new confidence. I know Matilde’s talent will continue to grow, and I hope this first step will be a big breakthrough for her.
So, the next time you think “I’m not sure,” or “what will they think of me?”, turn off that background noise, breathe in and step out in confidence.