Self promotion2-2Illustrations by Phyllida Bluemel

The risk is great.

And what if the extended family you asked to come to the show have travelled embarrassing distances and the performance that night is a bit of a dud? The crushing guilt, the wish that the replica rifle in your show was real.

At the heart of this is the self publicizing that is strangely part of going into the creative arts. It runs contrary to so many of my instincts (that I am the first to admit are both impractical and idealistic.) The first being intense scepticism, the phrase that is perpetually circling my head is: ‘Who am I to tell you anything?’ This does not translate well to the needs of publicity. ‘Who am I to tell you to come and see this show?’ is what I used to think over and over when I had to flyer on the mile during the Edinburgh festival. This tactic was so unhelpful I eventually got taken off flyering and made to sit silently in a picture frame as a sort of not-very-still human statue. Perhaps the hope being that if I had to be quiet I wouldn’t be actively discouraging people from seeing the performance through my own self doubt and Pyhhric questions.

Despite this experience, this question is still totally unresolved for me. As such I tend to invite people to performances on social grounds. Come to the show and we can hang out afterwards (as long as you’re not the boy I used to fancy.) In the same way that you might invite someone to meet you at the café you work at. It’s work! But social! The result of that is to bypass any question of the play, its content or quality—hey, I’m just doing this because it was a convenient way to see you. That’s why I quit my job and worked for a month on a show, I just knew if I didn’t, that drink wouldn’t happen! This tactic obviously carries its own amount of dishonesty.

There is just something about publicity that makes me shrink, because it can eclipse the work itself. And the work is the reason that I am there. Not to make friends or money or contacts, but to work. Everything else is a jolly bonus.

self promotion1 -2

Whenever I think about art for arts sake I think of Angus McPhee. And so should you all. He epitomises outsider art for me, creating for the sake of creation. He came from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides and worked as a crofter until he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, when he went to CraigDunainHospital. He then remained mainly silent for around fifty years. While there he wove clothing and sculptures out of grass and wool he found while working with the animals around the hospital. He used to hide them around the landscape, under hedgerows or trees. The art therapist, Joyce Laing, who worked with him, was able to salvage some of the pieces and after he died and they can now be found in the Pittenweem gallery in Fife. McPhee’s work is delicate and virtuosic and speaks for itself. Its context is exceptional but it doesn’t need much selling when you see the shirts, shoes and caps and animals woven masterfully out of grass by hand. They’re beautiful and they were made for no gain, a reward in themselves. And the best sort of work is that: the work that is valuable for itself. And if you can share it with other people, then that is wonderful—but if work is good enough I believe people will find it. Jean Dubuffet (creator of the term Art Brut from which ‘outsider art’ sprung) puts it more eloquently: ‘Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious.”[1. Dubuffet, ‘Place à l’incivisme (Make way for Incivism)’, Art and Text no.27 (December 1987 – February 1988). p.36]

It is strange coming blinking out of so many years of education, where creative projects were done for their inherent value rather than for anything else, into the muggy world of emerging artists where talk of industry, publicity and funding can drown out the sound of the creation itself. This partly comes from the need to do every job: creator, producer, publicist—but the roles need to be in that order and it is easy for the priorities to shift.

So guys, want to come to the play I’m in[2.]? You don’t have to, but it would be nice to see you. We could have a drink afterwards and maybe not talk about the show, but secretly know that the reason we are all there is not because of charity; a sense of needing to contribute to the arts or be a good friend/reader, but the hinge of art and creation that we are inherently drawn to, regardless of quality. It’s art for arts sake. But don’t tell anyone.