Art, and confidence…

Just listening to David Bailey talking about Picasso on Radio 4’s ‘Great Lives‘.

There was a discussion about how Picasso scandalised his context by his departure from the accepted rules of painting, in the pursuit of something that came to be known as ‘cubism‘, during which Matthew Paris asked Bailey about confidence, and where it came from. Bailey replied that he had never known a good artist who did not have absolute confidence in their work.

I wondered if this is true?

And if so, is it true for all forms of art?

I think of all the musicians and poets and writers whose art has twisted on a hook of insecurity. Who are driven to create by something inside, but are torn by self criticism and self doubt. Does this make the art less than great, or is it part of the engine for the art itself?

And I decided that great art does not require confidence (although as in all things, it may well help) but it does require tremendous courage. Because what we create, we create out of ourselves. And once created, it leaves some tender vulnerable part of ourselves out in the open where the wolves range.

What confidence does, I think, is allow art to be marketable. It gives shape to commerce. It makes legends in their own lifetimes.

Mercurial me…

Confidence. Self worth. Strength of purpose. Motivation and manliness.

I wear all of these like a latex mask…



But then a sense of my own inadequacies crowd in, the mask melts, and I am left feeling stripped and exposed.

My wife calls it my ‘artistic temperament’- and indeed, such sensitivity can be creative. But she is just being kind- she loves me after all.

I thought as a kid that I would outgrow these fragilities if I could only… educate myself, get a good job, be thin, sing and play the guitar, find the love a beautiful girl, become successful, and popular and renowned for my artistry, creativity and wisdom.

But unfortunately, I found that I never quite outran these shadows- despite all the wonderful things life brought to me.

Some days I am a contributor, a celebrator, a lover of life and all things, an enthusiast for truth and beauty, a weeper at sunsets, and the proudest, tenderest husband and father.

On other days- hopefully fewer now- I am a withdrawer, a wound licker, a failure, a buffoon, a man so drab as to become invisible.

So here are two poems, written in very different moods. Both of them are true…

I want to change the world

I want to change the world
Piece by piece
To the broken and the hurting
I would bring release
To give voice to pure and noble thoughts
In poetry and prose
I’ll draw men from their watering holes
Into Waterstones
Make the County Council Library
A place of pilgrimage
And me the new Chestertonian
Thomas Coleridge
(Minus the opium)

I want to make a difference
To the cupboards of the soul
If not to bring down evil empires
At least to blow big holes
To the tatters of a ragged heart
In evident disgrace
I would sing redemption songs
And whisper words of grace
Let me show Gods store house
Bursting full of goods
Let me plough this furrow deep
And plant my golden spuds.

For I was made to weave some words
Into this tapestry
And though the tongue pokes out my cheek
Still this picture is of me
And if I gild the lily
As I overuse my pen
Still I love to show the
Slender turning of its stem
And the misting of the moist warm air
On icy blue white flower
For I am His creation
And His creative power.


Sometimes it seems the world has had enough of me
It has missed my fool’s wisdom
And never noticed
The stab at significance I made
In the weary light of this
Steely day

There was a moment or two
When the gap between
Hope and possibility narrowed
Like arctic floes
In a cold sea
Before the mists closed their muzzle
On the nape of my neck
And the black water yawned
And beckoned me in

I reached till the small of my back
Near broke from the cantilever
But these splayed-out fingers
Found only an empty grasp
And skinned knuckles

But hey
After all this time
You’d think I would remember
I am small
And flawed
And often ungrateful

And the world is very big

And full of other people
Just like me.