I was chatting to my son’s squash coach the other day. He mentioned that none of our country’s top players have the discipline to play themselves on the squash court, which means playing the same shot hundreds of times… this seemed to imply to me an explanation of their lack of presence on an international level. I drew a comparison with art, where I’ve made similar observations: if someone is not willing to practice the same thing over and over again, they won’t advance as far or as fast. The coach added that in his experience as an English teacher, he always spent time teaching kids discipline, which usually lead to them having better self-discipline; an invaluable attribute in his opinion. Now that might sound terribly old-school, conjuring visions of corporal punishment, petty rules, and intimidated kids. But I think what he was referring to is discipline in the sense of structure and boundaries, which I have come to realise makes perfect sense in my own teaching experience:
I started off being nice. Ha. Chaos and mediocre creativity, even at university level. When I made it clear-unsmilingly- what I expected of my students in terms of punctuality and work ethic, set them challenging tasks, and had no mercy for lame excuses and negative attitudes, output and standard soared. They loved me, and I wasn’t nice. A revelation, especially for a woman 🙂
Now the real sticking point is of course the application of all of this insight to myself.
I struggle to finish my paintings. I have little discipline. Unless there’s a deadline like an exhibition opening forcing me to get on with it, I have problems carrying through the original impetus, procrastinating until the work has lots of all of its original appeal/reason. New Age advice has me search my chakra balance/childhood/ascendant for causes of this. So far, I have self-helped admirably in some areas but not when it comes to my art. I obviously need a stern tutor such as the squash coach, who looks like he can deliver!
So what to do when you only know the kind of discipline that leads to repression, depression, and denial, and must therefore be avoided? Thanks to an authoritarian upbringing I’m unfamiliar with constructive discipline. I rebel at the mention of daily practice, even though that is what I teach others. My excuses are many, but I’m getting bored with my own dysfunction here. There are times when I think that I’m just not cut out to be an artist, and should rather spend my spare time teaching my kids self-discipline 🙂
Anyone out there willing to share/suggest/coach?
Some of my unfinished paintings. Sigh.
This post struck a deep chord with me. I have a long history of lurking in the safety of my lonesome castle, and no insightful parent encouraged me to venture forth into the world; taking risks, confronting fears, finding out who I am in the process. To this day I struggle to claim my gifts, finish what I start, embrace success.
Of course, all that brooding, non-stop reading and fantasy-worlding can perhaps be credited for my creative vein developing as strongly as it did, so this is not meant to be an ode to self-pity 🙂 I am touched every day by insights from blogs like 400 days’til 40, and I feel less discontent with my achingly slow progress.
The self-portrait above expresses a lot of my fears, longing, and yes, hope!
Rites of Passage
‘Rites of Passage’ is an interpretation of my personal experience. The questions that arose from this experience correspond directly to the effects of a dysfunctional society, as well as to the effects of my own dysfunctions.
A Rite of Passage usually denotes a major change in one’s life, tied up with a number of often contrasting and confusing emotions. A certain amount of pain and discomfort is an inevitable part of the process of maturation and growth, and the official opinion seems to be that we can, under normal conditions, cope with and assimilate such growing pains. But just exactly what constitutes normal conditions?
I believe that the line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ is blurred at best and indistinguishable at worst, as each individual experiences emotion differently.
What is traumatic for one person might be less so for another.
Yet there is an unspoken consensus that when trauma exists, coping and assimilating becomes either a lifelong task or a permanent wound in the psyche.
Victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are forced to undergo a distorted Rite of Passage, and in the case of children usually long before it would have occurred ‘naturally’. The damaging effects of such trauma are indisputable. What I am querying is our responsibility, or lack thereof, as individuals and a society, towards such children: Should they be helped, can they be helped, will they be helped?
Is their premature loss of childhood innocence a hurt that will never be healed no matter how many well-meaning sponsors get involved? Are the wounds of life there for a purpose, and must therefore be endured?
Are the perpetrators of abuse merely victims of their own unresolved trauma? At which point in the cycle should the need for accountability arise?
Do you hold yourself accountable for your own dysfunctional actions?
The monstrosity of what human beings are capable of is not something I can or want to judge. I can only observe the ongoing negation of each and every one of the ideals that supposedly elevate us to an “advanced” level of evolution. The distortion and abuse that revered ideal such as ‘love’ ‘respect’ ‘truth’ ‘goodness’ etc. suffer from, as evident in the massive occurrence of abuse, murder, rape, theft, corruption, and divorce, suggests rather that humanity, despite its delusion of advancement throughout the ages, still prefers to adapt these ideals to its behaviour rather than its behaviour to the pursuit of ideals.
Excerpt from a review of the exhibition by John Sampson:
The Silke Berens exhibition, “Rites of Passage” at the Omba Gallery is a disturbing show. The title is an immediate hint that this is not your run-of-the-mill themed showing of pleasant works. The theme of this exhibition is quite the opposite, dealing as it does with child-abuse, not a popular area of focus.
But artists are not immune to the aberrations in society and it behoves them to comment on the ruptures in our moral/ethical structures, and the value systems that should be cultivated in our homes and families. It is precisely in this so-called comfort zone that children are abused, and Silke Berens speaks about this in her work.
Good exhibitions, invariably, speak to one at the visual level, this one does that, but more so, it sits in the throat, because it makes no excuse for its confrontational aspects. Child-abuse must be confronted. Perpetrators must be apprehended. And society requires a cleansing mechanism. An artist working to expose the underbelly of our society does precisely that, but in a manner that draws on more than the psychologist’s intervention.
Images, pictures, are stark reminders of our troubled psyches, whether we want to admit that much or not. And if we do, then we have to accept the gauntlet that has been thrown down.
Berens has been intimately associated with this painful subject, having worked with children, whose futures have been fractured by the monsters that lurk inside many of us. She chooses to bring the issue nearer through the clever use of style, together with a few more approaches that appeal to those with a deep-seated yearning for content at a different level. The style is intentionally childlike. The images of children seem as if drawn by a child. It has the quality of the amateur, and that is by intent, not by accident. One is struck by the fact that the children in the works do not take up bold central positions as forthright confident children living through a happy phase in the process to adulthood. These children are shying away to the edges, to the periphery, trying to avoid. Trying to avoid what? Trying to avoid more of the same. There is an intrinsic knowing that all is not right.
The pictures have been hung much lower than would normally be the case to once again associate the work with the child’s place in the maturation process. And the titles have been chosen to indicate the average height of adults. In the case of the children depicted one wonders whether anything in their adult lives would indeed be average. That would be a start, at least. It is far too simple to speak of a dysfunctional society, when, in fact, it is not society that is so affected, but our families. Society consists of dysfunctional families and individuals, and they are the ones imposed on all of society. And the figures in the Berens works, well….like we hear so often these days; they are seen as collateral damage! The most vulnerable seem to suffer the most.
The use of colour, or the lack thereof, also speaks of a considerable amount of introspection in planning this portfolio. There is no fun embarking on such works, and any artist doing so, is confronted himself/herself by the stark an inevitable reality of the burden of responsibility. This is evident in the Berens exhibition. It is a responsibility that rests on both the artist and the viewer.
The format of the works is appropriately small to once again draw attention to the young victims of uncaring and unhinged adults. Anything bigger would have rendered the works impersonal; anything smaller would have made it all disappear. It is when an exhibition of artworks confronts us with the joys and perverseness of society that an artist succeeds as a commentator on society. The gratuitous presentation of aestheticism, at the retinal level, is often, all that a body of work is capable of doing. In this exhibition the artist has
gone beyond the usual expectations and that accounts for this being an admirable body of work at both an aesthetic level and social level. It should be seen by everyone who has the welfare of the child at heart.
Against all odds- conferences, functions, exams, deadlines- I have produced something each day. Mostly small doodles and randoms, which I’m totally unused to showing anyone, but I said I’d post so there ya have it.
Compared to my output rate for the past 24 months, this is prolific indeed…what I usually do is to spew out a body of pretty much spontaneous work in a short intense frenzy, uncomfortably squeezed in between many months of complete flat lining.
I’m enjoying this discipline, unexpectedly, my brain is happily buzzing with ideas while my pen wanders on the paper.
Now why doesn’t the art community have a cool challenge like NaNoWriMo? The BBF (best boyfriend forever), alternating between elation and anxiety about his first ever NaNo, starting Tuesday, got me evaluating my work modus operandi: Time in The studio somehow always lands up last on the list, and I have plenty of very good justifications for this! Oh yessir, no-one could fault me for being handicapped by the Great Three- lack of time, energy, and finances. Watertight alibi. Yet something about the excited collective spirit and the supportive vibe among the writing community I’m witnessing second-hand has infected my busy, mostly art-free little world. What the heck, if you guys can, so can I! And yes, I know that writing about 1700 words on a daily basis is probably much more challenging than getting down some drawing or painting , but relativity is a wonderful thing. If I manage to match this schedule I will be achieving the impossible…so here’s the deal: For every daily quota of words I’ll equal at least one drawing or painting, editing optional 😉 .From the first of November to the thirtieth of November. Any artists out there care to join, bring it on! Any writers need visual inspiration, feel free to browse my hopefully prolific output!
“Lüderitz Jetty” Oil on board copyright Silke Berens
It sits on my easel, in shades of blue, and elicits a daily quota of sighs. Some are listless, most are downright depressed.
I swear to myself that one day I will be confident- or successful, does confidence come with success?- enough not to have to endure this horrible exercise in creative frustration. The curved horizon is a problem apparently, but I’m not far enough into the work to be able to give that particular suggestion the middle finger… I feel stifled, controlled, stopped in my flow.
To think I was excited at the start of it- a trade for a painted lounge, a long neglected form of avoiding the pitfalls of a cash oriented society; my hippy alter ego proud and singing songs of peace and liberation.
Until the demands set in. No not like that, more like this, must work with coral red wall etc etc . I’m told by more assertive artists that I should stick to my guns or rather my brushes, and provide a clear message of what you get is what you get- trusting The Artist to get it right without questioning or interference. But hey, I want the client to be happy, and tell his friends, so I’m willing to compromise. There’s always my more serious work to express my unique genius with, I try to console myself.
Still I rebel against the external censorship. I wonder if my students feel like this when I comment on their work.
I should count myself lucky that there’s no urgent deadline to this deal, but on second thought it would force me to make decisions and just get on with it- stoicism can also lead to liberation! Go Wall Street go. I’ll take my cue from you Bravehearts all over the world and march on.