I typed “What is an artist?” into Google. Here are are a few of the definitions my search returned:
“A person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.”
“A person who habitually practises a specified reprehensible activity.” ????
“A person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practising the arts, and/or demonstrating an art.”
As an actor I have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist. I remember one time back in drama school, we all happened to be struggling with a particular task we'd been set and one of my peers commented, “that's just not the kind of artist I am.”
I cringed. Badly. Still do. At 21 years of age I didn't know what kind of human I was (still don't), let alone whether I was an artist, and what kind of artist. What unbelievable wank. It sounded like pretentious bullshit ego speak. “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art” – as Mr Stanislavski once said.
Our tutors would always refer to us as artists in the context of our professionalism, instilling a rigorous demand for excellence and exploration. The insistence on truth in our work, following a process, having something to say and a commitment to growth. They taught us to continue to demand this of ourselves as individual artists once we'd graduated and were out into the big world of day jobs, bit parts, feature films, auditions, theatre, fringe, theatre in education, children's theatre, West End, TV, student films...well you get it.
So I still don't really see myself as an artist – I think for an actor that's not a term I should concern myself with, and certainly not at the point of doing; making, playing, creating, performing. But if an artist is someone who continually tests and stretches themselves, broadens their horizons, observes the world, tests boundaries, holds up a mirror and asks difficult questions of themselves and others – then these are tenets by which I'm happy to live as an actor.
And so that's why I've decided to contribute to the staff exhibition – even though I can't draw, paint or make anything for toffee. Somewhat daunting, given my piece is surrounded by the work of my hugely talented colleagues for whom I have so much love and admiration. And I can't wait to see all the pieces they've put in here.
As well as acting, I do also like to write stories though I rarely share them to be read by others. You can't put a short story up on a wall and call it art – but I did want to share this story with you in a way that would be more visually acceptable.
The story I've picked, “The What Ifs and The Might Have Beens” was adapted for this exhibition. It initially began life as a story within a short story called “Left Hand Envy,” which was a response to (but not about) the break down of my marriage in 2009. It's an observation that ultimately, we all want more or less the same thing but often are unwilling or unable to express it, or offer it, or make ourselves vulnerable and available to it. If you want, you can read the full story "Left Hand Envy" HERE. (the blue is the piece that is now "The What Ifs and The Might Have Beens.")
I wanted it to be hand-written because it's a personal story, from me to you, and it's about all of us.
I would have loved it to be written on a large rococo evil-queen-from-snow-white kind of mirror to add to the fairytale “ancient legend” feel. But size and cost were a constraint – struggling actors aren't wealthy people!
When you read the story, the background mirror means you are always in the picture, seeing a reflection of yourself. How does this story apply to you?
So you get this bright idea and go, “I know, I'll write my story on a mirror – easy!” Erm, no.
I had to stop and continually remind myself that this piece is not about demonstrating my non-existent free-hand sign-writing skills. This piece is just about the story, so please forgive the unevenness and messy hand-writing, the flaws, the lop-sided bits – they're what make it a personal note from me to you.
It's not the easiest to read. My hand-writing is a bit flourishy and then the mirror gives it a double effect and I decided I liked this. It takes a bit of extra effort to read the story – just as it sometimes takes a bit of extra effort to understand the deeper meaning behind a person's words and behaviour. Just an extra split second to stop and consider.
I hope you like it
actor, general alright person and tree-climber extraordinaire.