The Secret Artist #10: To Speak or Not to Speak

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To Speak or Not to Speak

So blog number ten and I’m going back to the beginning question from The Secret Artist numero uno: ‘How important is it to share?’ Well, ten chapters in and I’ve shared more than I ever have in my life. I’ve become more comfortable with writing, thanks to lots of very positive and constructive feedback. Plus the process of writing and sharing has become really valuable in many ways. It’s like my practice has been lifted out of the clutter and into some kind of clarity. I can understand more of what matters to me and why. I recently did some teaching at Turner Contemporary Margate and noticed how much easier I found talking about my work. I’m beginning to find my voice.

Preparing for And The Dark And The Dark exhibition I managed to throw in the idea of the artist talk like it was the most natural thing in the world, to see if I could bypass my nerves. It kind of worked. On the day I was super tired (and that always helps takes the edge off) and I was talking with one of my oldest friends and supported by many friends in the audience. It was a good opportunity to try and talk so I took it.

My motivation for posting this video is a desire to share more of the exhibition with those who couldn’t make it. I’ve barely shared any photos … getting a decent installation shot is a whole art form in it’s self (something to work on for next time). Also, it’s been a big event for me and one I will probably look back upon as the catalyst for many new twist and turns in my art career. So, here is a short film to mark the exhibition.

I know I’m not alone when I say talking in public racks my nerves. I still experience head-jam the same way I have since I can remember. I would dread being asked a question at school. Even though I knew the answer I’d know that once asked I probably wouldn’t be able to get the answer out clearly. The sentence might come out back to front or I’d focus on only one detail and forget the context but mainly the problem was so many thoughts would rush through my mind that it was as if my system would crash and I’d just go very red and try and smile my embarrassment away whilst repeating to myself internally over and over that I must avoid these situations at all cost! And so that’s basically what I’ve done for about twenty five years. I’ve always been in awe of people who can articulate clearly under pressure. Pressure being the operative word. In the absence of pressure, without a spotlight, I feel comfortable and I communicate pretty well but put me in the spotlight and it’s a different story. How did I manage to teach for so many years? The answer: With great difficulty.

I also say in the first blog, over ten weeks ago, that I wanted to get to grips with “actually saying something.” I wanted to find my voice. I wanted to know that my voice is my tool. As a participant on the NCM course last year, I had a profound coaching session with Patricia van den Akker. Patricia said to me that my biggest task was to get my head around the fact that I have something of value to say. I felt my stomach flip and was picturing something like a TED talk but we compromised at the end of the session with the agreement that “there are many ways to speak”. I don’t know if I’ll ever consider talking to be my best tool for expression but I want it to be an option and not something that frightens me. I want to get to the point where it doesn’t matter anymore. My energy can be directed into creating work and not worrying about sharing the work I’ve made. To assist me in my quest to share I have found the book Show your Work by Austin Kleon very useful. In the book Austin describes a test, a set of questions for whenever you’re undecided about whether to share or not. The ‘so what?’ test: Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my Boss or Mum seeing? (My mum is Boss and I think the answer is yes…?) It’s a very uncomplicated guide that inspires confidence in a no nonsense kind of way. I know I’m going to re-read it many times.

But even with the wisdom and support of the words of Austin I very nearly decided not to share this video because it was causing me so much stress. However I remembered this is exactly where I was about ten weeks ago, feeling sick as I hesitated to press the send key. But now it’s not so easy to let that fear dominate. I know that whatever I feel now can be changed with practice and by rerouting my neural pathways. To reset my mental programming I need to allow myself to be a beginner and remind myself that a beginner is learning and is someone who has the capacity to improve.

I’ve been reading and watching a lot of interviews of Grimes recently. She’s been high on my inspiration list for a while now. I think she is an amazing music producer and she writes, performs, produces and directs; it’s all her own work. She has masterminded an incredible world and created Grimes as a unique and powerful Brand. The kind that give Brands a good name. She says in one video interview that she avoids reading or watching any online media about herself, especially giving interviews, because she is regularly appalled by it. (I’m sorry but I can’t find the original link right now as it was viewed on one of my YouTube inspiration binges… but if I find it again I’ll update the blog to put the link in for you, so for the moment I’m just paraphrasing Grimes.) I appreciate her honesty. It connects me with the fact that she is under relentless pressure to articulate about her work and life and that she is also harshly, and in my opinion unnecessarily, critical of herself.

I’ll be honest. I wish I felt more confident about how the talk came out. I’m trying to accept that it was the best I could do at the time. And that’s okay. Today I’m different and tomorrow, and the next day, I’ll be different (and yet still the same). But I’ve got to decide how much energy I have to burn on worrying about this stuff. The kind of visions I’ve been having about how I want to be working by the end of 2016 don’t allow for this kind of hesitant, self critical and limited thinking. So it’s time to take some personal ownership. Here I am representing my work and myself for the exhibition. I can’t honestly say that sharing this video doesn’t stress me out. But I can definitely say that I’m tired of the smallness and the limitations and the holding back. So, like Grimes, I’ve got to decide what matters and this I know: I’ve got work to do.

See you next week,

Love and Best Wishes


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!