Knowing What You’re Doing is Overrated

Chance, timing and patience in the process of creating

Dr Victoria Powell

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Veejam, ‘Nothing is Clear!’ Mrs Don’t Mind Me (2023). Follow Veejam on Instagram

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I’ve had a subject in mind to talk about this week that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I wanted to explore how artists have interpreted power and authority in the sound of the voice, in accent, tone and rhythm of speech. And to think about what the voice means for social mobility and its impact on a person’s life chances. I thought I had the right ingredients for an interesting little essay, but for some reason I just couldn’t make it work. For days I’ve been skirting around it, feeling frustrated, trying to fit the different elements into a coherent flow. But they just wouldn’t connect up nicely, and eventually I allowed myself to park that piece of writing. For now.

Instead, what I want to reflect on very briefly today is this question that I just bumped up against: why couldn’t I get it finished? It’s something that I often hear from visual artists too — the frustration when an artwork doesn’t feel quite right and it’s not clear how to move it on. Last week, by chance, I was watching the American artist Pope L. talk about this very issue. His advice to artists who get stuck on an artwork is this:

Be patient. Enter into the ignorance of what you think you know. And if you don’t get the answer that you’re expecting then maybe that’s a good thing. Knowing what you’re doing is overrated.

This advice to be patient makes total sense to me. In every writing struggle I have now I try to remember that the best thing to do is to take a step back. You can suffocate your work through overfamiliarity. The knots will eventually untangle, but you can’t rush it. I’ll definitely come back to that essay on the authority of the voice at some point, but in the meantime I’m just going to wait patiently for the right moment.

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Dr Victoria Powell

I write about art, history, politics & culture, without the confusing art speak. Crazy about dogs. Victorian historian. 19th-century gentleman in a former life.