Tagged Thoughts

The Trouble With Tradition

The trouble with tradition… as I see it.

As artists or writers, we are taught conventions and traditions of thought and practice. In fact, I should go back to the start – as human beings, we’re taught to follow conventions and traditions.

People  work well with established routes towards fixed outcomes because they’re efficient and they make us feel safe. Clichés, stereotypes, tropes, archetypes, whatever – the repetition of a recipe is attractive because we know what we’re likely to get before we start, and we don’t like to fail.

Fair enough.


There are many benefits to be had from learning the rules and why they’re there; in fact, I’m a firm believer in knowing the ins and outs of your craft in order to be able to know the best way to break the rules to get the results you want.

I speak and write Bajan whenever I like, with the firm knowledge that my spoken and written English is very good. I paint in a very traditional way because I enjoy the process and the meticulous frame of mind it puts me in. I know the rules and when to ignore or incorporate them.

My problem with traditions comes when they restrict thought, and even worse, rip you off.

Tradition is just marketing in disguise.

Most of us make purchases blindly, because of the way it makes us feel. It’s not just the rush of having new stuff, it’s the sense of becoming a part of a tribe or a family – the sense of belonging.
When you’re a visual artist, you tend to cultivate your sense of belonging through your chosen medium, but beyond that, you place yourself at the end of the long line of artists, some of whom have become cultural titans.
Some of these names are trotted out to sell everything from chocolates to cars. The cultural capital wielded by the names of long-dead famous artists is immense, and if you want to think of yourself as using the same material as them, therefore being like them – belonging with them – then you’ll surely pay a premium for it.

Really, tradition for tradition’s sake is a huge money-waster.

For example, you can buy a party dress for a few pounds, but a wedding dress will set you back an awful lot, despite the fact that any dress you wear to your wedding is a wedding dress.

You can buy materials from a hardware store and knock up a “masterpiece” (another term redolent of unhelpful tradition, but that’s another story), but you can get fleeced in an art supply store and come away with little more than a sense of belonging in the club. That’s not to say that there aren’t many specialised artists’ materials that are worth their price, but too often there’s more than a hefty premium for the right branding.

How many products can you think of that have nothing to do with art, but bear the name of a famous artist? How often have you seen the Italian Renaissance referenced in aid of entirely inappropriate clobber, or French impressionists plastered across incongruous tat? Start in the museum or gallery shop, and end in the second hand car dealership.

The trouble with tradition is the appropriation of cultural highlights for commercial gain.

I found a masterpiece in the loo at work, for example. Duchamp was not the artist being referenced.

A Leonardo in the loo. The trouble with tradition is the appropriation of culture for commercial gain.

Traditions are like a cozy duvet, but most of us who are able aim to get out of bed at some point during the day.

Tradition for its own sake is ancestor worship.

Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of doing things you don’t like and being with people you don’t like in places you don’t like because it’s traditional – that’s just doing things to keep dead people happy. Really, being overly dependent on received methods of working, thinking and acting is a sure way to be restricted, unhappy and broke.

I enjoy art and writing that understands its place in history, its influences and its roots. This doesn’t mean it has to be a pastiche; on the contrary, knowing where you’re starting from can help you to define where you want to land.

Says she who makes oil paintings.

Re: Presentation

Re: Presentation

Is this my best side?

For some artists, the attempt to package an image of themselves for the world can be maddening; for others, it may come as a natural extension of their practice.

Performing the role of artist may be difficult for some because of the unclear nature of the boundaries of this role in contemporary society – self-representing artists need to create work, maintain a cohesive practice, write statements about themselves and their work, and market themselves through social media.

The influence of academia on contemporary art practice leaves many feeling unable to write convincingly about their right to a seat at the table without resorting to obfuscating artspeak (been there).

Those who feel more at ease with marketing may feel happy to wear lots of hats at once; those who don’t may feel disadvantaged by their natural discomfiture.

To PhD or not to PhD

Personally, I often question whether I’m going the right way: I’ve ended up with a crazy mix of academic writing and traditional portraiture skills, with a magpie selection of media thrown in as well. I genuinely love researching and writing, but I thrive on making. This caused more than a bit of internal conflict when I did an art theory MA that had very little art in it anywhere.

Every year, it seems as though I find a PhD scholarship or studentship that makes me sit up and have a crisis of direction. This happens although I’ve already decided that a career as an academic is neither likely because of my age and circumstances, nor is it what I really want… so why am I tempted?

It’s because I was raised to believe that getting academic qualifications was the way to prove your value in this world. Although I don’t believe that now, childhood training is hard to forget.

I believe that the art world is overly obsessed with proving itself through rigid external structures, either through auction house prices or scholarly qualifications. Surely the best way of proving yourself as an artist is in making your own art.

Re: Presentation. For self-representing artists, deciding on how to go about the business of presentation, marketing and branding is often challenging.

Polymath or hot mess

The question remains unanswered for me: which is my best side?  I still have a mistrust of marketing, but I know that the best practice for artists looking to establish themselves is to develop a visual language or style… to work in a specific category or medium, work in series – develop a thing, a hook or gimmick, to be blunt. But that doesn’t always seem to come naturally to me. Obviously, people are my main “thing”, but they aren’t my only interest.

I don’t buy into notions of singular authenticity and purity in art practice. If anything, I came to dislike the rules for “serious” art practice that I came across whilst studying.

I like to call myself a polymath because it sounds better than saying I have shiny object syndrome. The fact is, I love writing, and not just about art; I love drawing, painting, carving, building, printing and coming up with empires in my head that never make it past my notebook.

So I’ll stick with polymath, or whatever helps me make the art I want to make whenever I want to make it.

Exhibitions – Preston Comic Con

Can comic cons function as art exhibitions?

I’ll admit, a Comic Con really wasn’t on my list, but my it was at the top of my husband’s, so off we went.


There are often interesting original artists and writers at these shows (well, at both of the two Comic Cons I’ve been to in my life) so I was prepared to seek them out in the midst of the standard superhero fare.


Having said that, this event made me think about the popularity of fantasy and how adults dressing up as superheroes ties in to the concepts of performativity and masquerade… as well as examining the all-powerful effect of the film industry on individual indentities.


Cosplay turns to social commentary: Trumpool
Cosplay turns to social commentary.


Ultimately, you need to just go with the superhero flow and enjoy the costumes.


The graphic novel dream

I did get to buy a copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, which Mary and Bryan Talbot signed for me – yes, I did bend Mary Talbot’s ears somewhat about graphic novels as academic writing but I’m sure she may have recovered by now.

I’ve been interested in their work since coming across it whilst researching The Thought That Counts, and whilst it never managed to make it as a graphic novel due to time constraints, I still had a wee dream of writing my own academic graphic novel.


Dotter of her Father's Eyes, signed by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, signed by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot.


After picking up a copy of issue 1 of 3 Parts Mad, I realised that the dream was very much still alive… I also knew that I’d chosen the wrong essay for the treatment. There was another essay, shelved, which would be perfect for it.

Still, this will take a bit of time. Until then, I’ll keep an eye out for more good drawing/writing and start the storyboarding process in between my other projects.

Any heavy, heady art theories on cosplay? Do share!

Exhibitions - Preston Comic Con



Give me something I love, and I’ll find a way to make myself hate it.

I don’t mean people or even objects; I mean things I do. Let me get a whiff of being good at something, and I’ll want to be the best – or at least the best I can be.

The cycle.

The harder I work at getting better, the better I get, then the harder I work, and then… do I get even better? Actually, after a few cycles, that’s when I stop entirely, because I’ve burned myself out.

Then the separate cycle of despair over not being as good as I could be starts, and it takes me a while to work up enough momentum to fling myself out of that orbit into being obsessed with being good at something again.

There’s not a lot of time left for enjoying yourself in this pattern, is there?

I loved art before, when I was younger and the purpose of art was to make art, to be part of it and not just to see it. After I dropped out of art school at 20 to have an unsuccessful stab at happy housewifery, I felt as though I’d betrayed my real self, and that was the start of the trouble with art.

I couldn’t blame anyone but myself, because I’d stopped myself from getting better. I did try to push through on my own, but nothing connected until I enrolled in art school again, at 31.

This time, I was going to squeeze eleven years’ worth of practice into two years of education, and I was going to come out of the other side with my old life back.





Of course, that couldn’t happen. Private views, residencies, commissions – these are easy when you’re fresh out of college and don’t have to fit in the school run.

I tried to take on as much as I could, because the sky would fall down on my head if I didn’t hit the ground running. After all, getting a job with the word ‘art’ in the title would prove that I was worth something, right?

Suddenly, the happiness of finally getting that BA in Fine Art (with a lovely 1st class to add to the CV) bled into dread of not being able to get a job, and of having to face the dreaded JobCentre and the supercilious agents of employment scorn therein. Then, the happiness of finding a job! Of being asked to start a band! Of getting onto an MA course! Of moving to London!


Overwhelm strikes…

Such a lot of happiness all at once… of course, I had to keep my job, practise with the band in Kent, study for the MA and raise my son as a single parent and be the best I could be at all of them at the same time. But, the thing was, I missed making.

The MA was challenging and interesting, but the studios at Goldsmiths looked so much more appealing than the library. I started to wonder if I was the only one who thought that the theory wasn’t half as important as the art itself. I thought I was.

It was starting to look like a very expensive mistake, as if it was all for the sake of some more letters after my name to prove I was worth something.

The job was good, but was physically very tiring sometimes. It would only be there for another few months, and then I’d have to find another one – panic. The singing was incredible fun and the band had my name on it, which was all a dream come true, but it took me an hour and a half to drive to rehearsals each Saturday and then an hour and a half back home, and the same for gigs.

It took four months for me to crack, but I did crack. I got so physically run down that I became depressed. I had the flu for about a month,  lost my voice and barely recovered in time for our first gig.



A few months later (this is the short version), I had the answer handed to me by my deus ex machina in the form of my future husband, who picked me up and dropped me in Lancashire and made me get on with life away from the things I loved that weren’t loving me back enough.

Three years on, the sky didn’t fall down because I’ve only had a few exhibitions. My son loves me as much now as he did when I didn’t have two degrees. I have a job with ‘art’ in the title and I can still find something to complain about. No-one who loves me cares that I’ve never been an artist in residence anywhere and I stopped caring as well.

What am I doing now? Two websites for two separate businesses, a half-started novel, a part-time job, and a full-time family. Sounds like I haven’t learned, right? Only this time, everything else has to come after what’s best for me and my family. If you’re panicking about what comes next in your art career, don’t. Seriously, don’t.

I’m happier now that I’ve stopped panicking and started living.

You can make something happen by simply making your own work for your own gratification and making your own opportunities. Panicking won’t help. It certainly won’t help you to enjoy your life.

Make your (art)work fit your life, and you’ll realise there’s nothing to prove – you’re already worth something.



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