The Importance of Approval

But Whose Approval Matters the Most?

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May 31, 2019
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When I was at Croydon Art College in the 90’s, I remember learning about the Salon des Refuses of 1863. This idea of artists doing their own thing, themselves, and sticking two fingers up at the establishment while they did it, really struck a chord with me. From the age of sixteen I’ve marched through London for many a cause and I’ve always championed the underdog. Being someone who, back then at least, could relate to that position in life.

After I delivered my painting to the Royal Academy on the 1st of May for the final round of judging for this years Summer Exhibition, I was handed a flyer. It said ‘The Salon des Refuses’ on it and I was immediately reminded of this feeling of possibility for the people as opposed to the exclusivity of the elite. I kept it and hoped I wouldn’t need it but liked that it was there, that this still exists.

I have issues with approval. Twenty years ago when I started my first accessories business, I would try to define my ideal customer. When I did this it would always somehow come back to a version of my mother. How was she my ideal customer? She wasn’t. This was a subconscious effort to seek approval from someone whose approval I wanted but never felt like I received. Consequently I have found it hard to approve of myself.

Last year I listened to Louise Hay’s book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ on audible and one of the main things she talks about is to say every day ‘I approve of myself’. So I took approval into my own hands, or so I thought.

As an artist who has studied psychology and mental health in order to heal myself and to help other people, much of the art I make is concerned with feeling. I make art to make peace with myself, to slay demons and exorcise emotions I don’t enjoy. These pieces often have no pre formed conceptions. I apply paint to canvas and see what comes out.

Early this year I had an image in my mind of a painting which went with the concept of and so was called ‘A Series of Measured Rejections’. I won’t go into the personal nature of this here but I made the painting and it was an exact representation of the image in my head. Should this not have been enough for my own approval?

I emailed the image to the Royal Academy for this years Summer Exhibition and perhaps because of the personal nature of the work, and my own insecurities around expressing such personal emotions on canvas, when I got the email inviting me to deliver it for the final round of judging I was elated! In a way that possible selection for an exhibition hasn’t affected me before. How had someone else’s approval of my work altered how I felt to such a degree?

It made me think: This piece is an abstract canvas that, if it were in the Summer Exhibition at the RA, could have people thinking ‘Why is this here? It’s nothing special, I could do that.’ In much the same way I felt about the black squares with the tissue paper when I first went to the RA Summer Exhibition aged fourteen, as I mentioned in my previous article. I knew that if I had sent it last year, it might have got in or not got in, the same for next year. Just because the judges felt it might not work doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. As I always say, there is no such thing as good or bad art. It is self expression and that is what is important. If this is the case then why should it matter so much?

On Monday 20th May, I was tutoring for four hours, unable to check my email. When, later at around 2pm, the email arrived, as you may have worked out by now, my painting hadn’t been chosen for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Beyond the concept of success or failure any more, I was again glad not to have been interviewed and not to be on camera to receive this news. I sat at my desk for a few minutes, taking in in….A Series of Measured Rejections… but then I remembered the flyer I’d taped to the window frame by my desk. - The Salon des Refuses. Yes. They will accept any artwork not selected for the RA, until their quota for gallery space is full. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Because this process has reminded me of what I already knew.

I make art to preserve my sanity. I have always been that way and none of that history can be changed by my studies in the psychology of creativity. It only reinforces the fact that everybody needs an outlet to express themselves and if by doing that they, we, you or I gain a better understanding of ourselves, which we invariably do by making marks on paper or canvas or wood or a disused doorway or whatever our chosen medium may be, then it has value.

One of my favourite quotes, which is on the screen lock of my phone at the moment is from Alice in Wonderland. It says: ‘Would you like an adventure now or shall we have our tea first?’ As much as I love a cup of tea, I also like an adventure - whether that is a foray into the workings of my subconscious mind or the excitement of behind the scenes of the Royal Academy. What I know is that it is really only how I feel about my art that matters.

My painting will now feature in the Summer Exhibition by the Salons des Refuses. I hesitate to stick two fingers up to the Royal Academy though, because I would quite enjoy another adventure with them next year.

Find out more about who I am and how I work at sophiewalkercreative.com. Thanks for reading and have a great day. X

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Sophie Walker

Artist and Mindful Creativity Practitioner , Attentive Art

I'm an artist who studied psychology and mindfulness to help myself overcome some of life's challenges. I combined the two and had amazing results. Now I help others to do the same.

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