Over the last month, my local favourite place, the Linenhall Arts Centre here in Castlebar, have hosted a couple of very interesting evenings. Over two nights, separated by a few weeks, they got some talented artists in, to sit before an audience in the theatre, to discuss their work, their origins and their process. On the first evening, hosted by Marie Farrell, we had contemporary dancer Liadain Herriott and visual artist Alice Maher. The second evening, which happened just this week, gave us writers Colin Barrett and Ger Reidy.
The three artists who could present a little of their wares, did. For Alice, as a visual artist, it would have been impractical but she more than made up for that with her forthright and insightful contribution to the whole.
On the first evening, Liadain gave a remarkable dance performance. Certainly for me, who sees so little dance, it had an immediacy and danger that one might only find in the most heightened of theatrical experiences. On the second evening, the two writers read us some of their stories and chatted to Eamon Smith who drew them out carefully as far as they would go.
Two things, in particular, came out of the evenings for me.
Firstly, it confirmed the nagging sense of frustration I get whenever visual, dance, and other non verbal artists are asked to account for their work in words. Words are the tools we all use to understand things at some tangible level but sometimes the best understanding is on a more obtuse plane. Non verbal work can prod and nudge us at the most base emotional levels if we allow it to and if it connects with us. Words can get in the way. They are the lowest common denominator upon which we try to find something to share about the art and, in doing so, we can only dilute or even diffuse the neural connections that are being tentatively formed. I sometimes think we should give our response to dance with a little dance of our own and to visual art with a pencil and some paper.
Despite this, Liadain and Alice fielded the requirement to verbalise their art with grace and knowledge and the result was always interesting and often great fun.
For the second evening, one could have expected a more appropriate verbal analysis of the art because the artists were wordsmiths themselves. At least, here, there was this common literary medium between the work and the audience.
It was the discussion after the readings that gave me my second lesson. The writers were both amenable and engaged with the evening. They took the questions that were given them and considered them and engaged with them in an open, thoughtful and entertaining way.
Oh, but how they squirmed.
Not outwardly. As I said, they were great outwardly. But one could see the vulnerability, the unease, the uncertainly which the questions stirred deep inside them. Why did they write what they write? Where did the stories emanate from? What made them start writing? What keeps them writing? How do they write? What is the secret? What is the secret? What is the secret?
It occurred to me that Ger and Colin, highly talented writers both, looked momentarily like men being probed about what they thought of Dublin when they felt they had only just cleared Charlestown.
They answered as best they could and there was insight and experience in their answers but, for me, the best answer, the most valuable one of all, was in the one they simply could not give.
What these evenings taught me, or at least reaffirmed for me, is that there is no answer. There is no magic secret to creativity. As far as I am concerned, there is only one link between all the artists and creative people we know who continue to make Art.
They keep going.
They keep on keeping on.
They follow their own inspiration and walk their own path and keep the faith as best they can. The rest is mere detail and it varies from person to person. It can be anything, it can be nothing. The artist keeps going while the rest of us stops or never even starts at all.
As Eamon Smith remarked, near the end of the second evening, a sizable proportion of the audience had been made up of people who were themselves creative or artistic by nature. This, I think, is understandable. It’s a lonely business, this keeping on, and it’s natural to take any opportunity to see how the other people over the wall are managing to do it.
I hope they got as much out of the evenings as I did.
The lasting image I got is a rather strange one. It’s Bruce Forsythe and Tess Daly at the end of an old Strictly Come Dancing show. As the titles start to roll they engage each other in their trademark good humoured lightweight embrace. But, instead of saying ‘keeeep dancing’ as they normally do, they dip forwards towards us and say, 'keeeep working’.