“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.” D.W. Winnicott.
Donald Winnicott (psychoanalyst born in 1896) was onto something. His best known work focused on what he calls True Self and False Self. He described False Self as “Other people's expectations can become of overriding importance, overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one's being”.
Speaking only for myself, it is this tension that makes ‘being an artist’ such an odd occupation. Months spent alone in the studio, digging deep and scratching around for ways to make things visual, the meditation, the highs and the lows, the doubts, the eye strain and the neck pain, the endless conversation between me and the work. I don’t set out to find my ‘true self’ but when I come close to it, the work rings true too.
And then this private and absorbing process is abruptly interrupted. To sustain my odd occupation, others must see the work (and hopefully like it too). I have learnt to say goodbye to work that is to be sold, to find energy in the making and not in the having. Occasionally it is hard to say goodbye, or the departure is too sudden, before I have internalized the lessons.
That moment when the bubble wrap covers the painting and partially obscures the image is the beginning of that transition from the private to the public. “Bye-bye painting, I hope I made you strong enough to live in the real world!”
So next time you chat to an artist at an exhibition, know that they may be trying really hard to overcome their desire to hide. Talk to them anyway.