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The Artist as an Outsider

The artist as an outsider is an often held belief, but does this come from the artist themselves, or the ‘outside’? I believe there are several modes of being outside – the first, is a feeling that originates from the artist as an internal emotional state - a sense of feeling different. The second is the mirror of this, a sense of not only feeling different in your self, but the knowledge that others also recognise this in you; and the third is often within the lifestyle of the artist, sitting on the fringes outside of what could be considered normal working hours, often freelance sometimes working for nothing. It is more difficult for actors to get car insurance, mortgages and even renting property can be a challenge if you’re self employed and have no guarantor. And, when you get right down to it, even gaining recognition for your craft is hard unless you’ve ‘been on the telly’.

I wonder if it is a self fulfilling prophecy – we feel different and are treated as such…

Artists create what is left behind, traces of ourselves, others and the places from which we come. Since the very first cave drawings, music, theatre and art was used to hold a mirror up to society, express different undercurrents running through cultures and pass down traditions. In theatre (since this is the discipline I practice), the origins are religious, ritual based and a collective way to experience catharsis – it was a means of conferring societies expectations to the masses within a religious context. What is left behind, globally, is play texts, the spaces performed in and a myriad of forms.

And so it is for the following millennia; we are offered tangible glimpses of a past, seen and commented on through the eyes of the artists who observe and comment upon the events, fashions, mores and morality of their times, and theatre and art evolved to became a tool to control, subvert, satirise, entertain even contributing to revolutions.

Inherent to making theatre, is acute observation – to stand outside and look in – not on yourself, but on the world you’re creating. Personal experience can be a springboard to generate material, whether created in retrospect or during an experience. But to bring it to life and create balanced and outstanding performance, sitting on the outside, analysing, forming and seeing the whole is crucial. Another type of outside.

Artists as viewed through the eyes of non artists has always been interesting - mostly we are seen as the mortgageless, childless, mostly skint and living in sometimes questionable accommodation with perhaps a drug problem thrown in for good measure. I feel that most people in mainstream careers see being an artist as a clear refusal to grow up. This isn’t new – for centuries the otherness of being an artist and the delight we take in being on the edge, is frowned on, mocked and turned into a stereotype. Even more recently - the very validity of art in our society has been questioned, as the cuts bite deeply it was literally the first thing to go.

A friend of mine recently posted on their facebook page, a large picture reading ‘I AM AN ARTIST. THIS MEANS I LIVE IN A PERVERSE FANTASY WORLD WITH UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING’ This prompted me to realise that artists not only know they sit apart, but revel in it – wearing their otherness like a badge which can become an excuse for bad behaviour or in the worst cases - apathy. This self deprecation also feeds the stereotype that for most artists doesn’t exist. We all have bills to pay, jobs to do and lives to be a part of. The rewards of being an artist can be immense, as can sitting on the outside, but glorifying an out of date stereotype fuels a romanticised idea of what it means to be in the arts, but which sadly can never live up to the reality.

And yet…there is a secret desire in many to have a creative life. It is a furtive desire, which strangely enough has filtered into popular culture. Reality television like the X Factor and How to Solve a Problem Like Maria, allows people to believe that you can become an artist for free, stepping into a readymade career without having to do all of the hard boring slog and poverty it generally entails. And here we come to the crux – being an artist does not necessarily becoming famous. Celebrity’s themselves are artists, but sit apart from the norm in a totally different way. Feted and appearing unreal in their lifestyles and beliefs (scientology is a classic), they are as far removed from ‘real life’ as it is possible to be with wealth beyond measure, strangely alien like bodies and eating macrobiotic food whilst cloistered in their vast mansions we look up at them with wonder.

For me this is not something I would want – that is not to say that I don’t want to some day be at the top of my game, I do. I would love to have my own venue, be written about and studied, whilst programming and creating cutting edge performance of the highest quality. And that’s my definition of success. For me. For others I’m sure it will be different and vary wildly. At the moment, I’m just happy to be making work and a living at the same time, sitting firmly on the outside.


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