Curing the cringe factor

There are times when you create something that is so crushingly cringeful that you cannot bear to look at it for years afterwards. You even destroy work in an Orwellian-style rewriting-of-history attempt to erase all traces of crapitude. I’m almost over it with these teenage paintings of mine that my mum secretly kept. It’s interesting (to me at least) to look back on work I did as a teenager who wanted to ‘be an artist one day’. Just about enough time has lapsed for me to be able to look at them with fondness and to know that all cringes pass in time.

Teenage art eh? Hormones all-asunder, sweeping emotions, yearning and unrequited love. I’m surprised I didn’t use my own blood to render this dancing image:dancing_paulaknight

snowgoose_paulaknightThe birthday card above was based on The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. We listened to the radio adaptation in art class and had to draw as we listened to the story. I drew the characters Fritha and Philip, with the snow goose in the background. I don’t recall who the card was for but I didn’t send it.peacegirls_paulaknight

I did the ‘peace girls’ image after visiting Eastern-bloc Czechoslovakia on a youth-orchestra exchange in 1984. Mine was an emotional rather than political response – I think I was too young to really appreciate the politics back then. I only wish I still had the painting I did of a woman being sacrificed over the letter S (the top of the S was a hand holding a dagger dripping with blood). Teenage hormones…

I worry that the work I’m producing at the moment – in my hormonal peri-menopausal state – will one day beckon the dreaded cringe all over again. But this time the work isn’t safely squirrelled away in a bottom drawer for later. However, cringe is under-rated; perhaps the discomfort is a sign of authenticity, of work wrought from such a genuinely human and vulnerable place that it elicits angst at the very thought of sharing it. I think Billy Bragg said that he knew when a lyric was probably good because it made him feel uncomfortable to express it.

Once it’s out there it’s out there. So, my advice to myself and others is this: You don’t know what it will feel like until you dip your toe in the water – put it out there expecting a few hours of vulnerability backlash*, then forget about it. But if you do find yourself curling up in existential agony for weeks afterwards, it’s probably not worth the stress. A leathery hide is advantageous when sharing deeply personal work because you might not receive the required response, which could potentially smart more than the original wound. It’s a gamble. But equally it’s a gamble not to share it, because you never know where it might lead and what good it might do others. Like any new thing, it can get easier the more you practise. This not only applies to deeply personal work – but also to any creative work: some people have terrible trouble letting their work out into the big bad world where everyone is a critic and where silence speaks louder than words.

So, I’ve shared these pictures that used to make me feel so very embarrassed for myself. I’m practising.

ps; I must get round to reading The Wounded Storyteller, by Arthur Frank. It’s meant to be good.

* I first saw this phrase used by Jody Day of Gateway Women – apt words to describe that after-click panic when sharing something personal on social networking sites.

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4 thoughts on “Curing the cringe factor

  1. I love that you can eventually look back on ‘teenage art’ with fondness and maybe even laugh. I found some drawings and things of mine recently and yeah, I cringed, but I also kinda loved them. I’m not sure how much I’ve really grown up after all .See? http://cherryandcinnamon.com/2012/07/27/batman-many-happy-returns/
    Being vulnerable is a good thing. I think as artists this is something we need to learn to embrace more. And as for hormones, tell me about it? They don’t call it ‘the curse’ for nothing lol 😉

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