To disappear into the woods
Cardigan Bay, Wales, August 2016
Cardigan Bay, Wales, August 2016

A while back, when I was agonising over some shoot or other (if memory serves it was last Christmas’s shoot with Raphaella WithLove (NSFW), which in the end I enjoyed immensely), and I posted a question on some forum or other, asking how people managed to stop their pursuit of perfection getting in their way — in short, how to stop “the perfect [being] the enemy of the good.”

One of the responses stuck with me, and I clipped it to Evernote, where it pops up from time to time to niggle at me:

… I think that your art, right now, is probably way too wrapped up in your social identity. You’re surrounded by artists you admire and you want to Be An Artist more than you actually want to make art. The voices of other people are way too loud in your brain. What you should probably do is pull a Bon Iver and disappear into the woods for a while…

If you’re not familiar with it, the story goes like this: Singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, recovering from glandular fever (mono, if you’re not British), spent several months in his father’s cabin in rural Wisconsin, and whilst there wrote most of Bon Iver’s first album (For Emma, Forever Ago). The comment’s point is, I suppose, that Vernon was able to concentrate on making the art he wanted to make without having to worry about whether people would approve of it, or where it would fit in the music world at large. I don’t know how heavily those concerns weighed on his mind, but it’s a beguiling idea: going off the grid and making the art you want to make for no-one but yourself.

I’ve been entertaining the notion of a prolonged road trip somewhere — Stateside, maybe, or perhaps somewhere in Europe. Just me, a camera, and a notebook in which to plot the journey, going where my thoughts take me.

But then there are the projects I want to tackle at home. HEADLESS, which I should really have launched properly this week, and EVENING, which I’ll launch early next week with a bit of luck and good management.

I’m sat outside as I write this. The sun’s hot, but I’m in the shade and away from it. There’s a buzzard crying somewhere overhead — such a wonderful thing to hear in Greater Manchester — and in the far distance I can hear the motorway’s sussurus. A neighbour is pruning some trees: crackle, rustle, crash, thud.

I’d love to be writing these words from some other place. But you know what? This one does just fine too. I need to start appreciating it. I can still make art without having to disappear into the woods. What I need to do is disconnect what I’m making from the imagined demands of the people who are going to see it. Then and only then can I make art for myself.

Art as a conversation with myself. Now there’s a topic worth exploring…