Grayson Perry is a leading figure in the arts world. He’s known mainly for his ceramics, but I particularly love his textiles, especially the tapestries he produced for the BBC programme It’s All in the Best Possible Taste, which was about how taste varies from class to class in Britain. If you didn’t get to see it, you can find out a little bit about it here.
There’s an anecdote Grayson Perry told in his final Reith lecture that sticks in my mind. He was talking about how it is to leave art college, and the process of finding yourself in the art world. and he recounted a great analogy which was given to him by Finnish photographer Arno Minkkinen .
Minkkinen said that after you leave art college it’s like being at the bus terminal in Helsinki. You get on a bus and travel for two or three stops and then you get off. You go into a studio and show the owner your artwork, and he probably says something like ‘Meh’. So you get on the bus back to the terminal. Then you try a different bus, heading in a different direction. After a two or three stops, you get off again and show your artwork in a different studio. The same thing happens again, so off you go back to the bus terminal.
There are a lot of buses pulling out of Helsinki. You could be carrying on like this for a long time. But Minkkkinen has the solution. What you need to do, he says, is get on the bus and STAY ON the bloody bus. You need to keep on that metaphorical bus until you reach the end destination.
I liked that analogy very much. If you’re trying to find yourself as an artist or writer, you’re in the journey for the long haul. If we could all get off at the first stop, how easy that would be. And what would we have learned? What would we have seen?
Anyone who follows my blog will know that every week I do an author interview. One of the questions I always ask is ‘What is the main lesson life has taught you?’ An astonishing number of writers – honestly nearly all of them – said that the main lesson life has taught them is never to give up. In other words, stay on that bus.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. Like many writers, I’m sure, my thoughts about my writing go up and down. It’s a solitary experience, and to be honest, sometimes quite a lot like sitting on a bus. The journey can be a slog, and the view isn’t that brilliant. Unlike being on a bus, though, you don’t even have that lone crazy person sitting next to you to talk to. (In fact, you probably ARE that lone crazy person :) )
But from now on whenever I’m sweating over my next paragraph, or imagining that no one is ever going to publish this drivel, or I’ll never sell any more of my published books, or any of a million other doubts and niggles that pass through a writer’s mind, I’m going to remember Minkkinen’s words. I’m on that bloody bus now, and I’m staying on it, no matter how tempting it is at times to get off!
If you want to listen to any more of Grayson Perry’s charming and witty lectures, you can download a podcast here.
*Expalanation: Lord Reith was a Scotsman and one of the key figures behind the BBC in the 1920s. The Reith lectures are a ‘series of annual radio lectures on significant contemporary issues, delivered by leading figures from the relevant fields‘, according to the BBC website. (They’re actually much more interesting than that sounds.)
Do you like Minkkinen’s analogy? Do you sometimes feel like jacking it all in and getting of the bus? If so, how do you keep going? Any comments, I’d love to hear from you!