By ANNE BLUETHENTHAL, professor in the Department of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry and Artistic Director of ABD Productions
At a recent Saturday Night Event for the Writing and Consciousness and Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA programs, a question was posed to a panel of artists on the subject of confidence. To what do they attribute their apparent confidence? Is it a constant thing, or does it waver?
I thought it was an interesting question, particularly for a panel of mostly young guests who were discussing how to sustain a life as an artist. They were all eloquent, passionate, and intriguing interdisciplinary artists each of whom has carved out a niche or woven a tapestry of activities, pursuits, and art works into what appears to be a functioning, possibly sustainable life—not at all a simple or easy accomplishment.
The question sent me wondering about the question of confidence. What is it, exactly, that confidence is made of and how does it serve us? Is it a value, really, or is it something that, when possessed by someone, pulls us, attracts our attention, the way one is drawn toward authority? Are we drawn because of the exuding of authority, or is it an ardent interest that compels us—a sort of magnetism of curiosity?
If confidence is the “feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities,”1 then how does an artist acquire this?
I don’t see artists being confident, so much as having a sort of courage of conviction. We are a faith-based community, often having little in common beyond our wild and unfounded belief that this thing we cannot articulate, this thing we can only sense in a most watery way, must be brought into being. We feel this with such zeal, we are willing to put words to it and imagine it, will it—carve, sculpt, dance, play, and dream it into being as thought our lives depended on it. And I daresay in some real sense, our lives do depend on it.
There is nothing barring the years of experience with your medium that will birth confidence. And then, it is not so much that you become self-assured, so much as you have increasing faith in your medium. Hence, we are placing the faith, not in our selves, but in the art itself, the artistic process, the discipline, the medium, the tools we have worked with until we bleed—figuratively or literally. I venture to say that confidence in the self, particularly without the years of dedication and practice, is nothing more than arrogance. Faith in the art itself, to speak the truths we ourselves may only vaguely understand—that merits some confidence.
Where is my gaze? I ask myself this continuously, knowing that attention itself is the great watering of seeds, and I want to be mindful of what I am watering. If I want to grow ego, I’ll gaze at myself. If what really intrigues me are the great existential questions or the simplest curiosity of nature, I will stare fervently. And if it is on how the nuance of gesture conveys the unspeakable, that will, blossom before my eyes. I have confidence in this.
1New Oxford American Dictionary