I came across a simple little song the other day by Malcolm Middleton, one half of the now defunct Scottish band Arab Strap, called ‘Devil and the Angel’. (For those with sensitive ears, I should warn you there’s a little bit of swearing in this, but it’s super duper Scottish swearing, and therefore quite amusing ;))

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s about something that all artists except the super conceited can, I think, relate to. I certainly can. And that is the ever ongoing battle with self-confidence.

As I think anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve got quite a few new things on the go just now, and honestly, I’m quite nervous about all of it. There are my first two art exhibitions coming up this summer, I’m attempting to finish a novel, and I start grad school in October after 9 years out of school. Self-confidence has never been my strong suit, but lately I’m struggling even more than usual.

For every artist (and indeed most people, but art is an introspective sort of field, so is particularly plagued I think) there are always two voices competing inside the mind – Middleton calls them the devil and the angel, which is apt, but I prefer to call them the Optimism and Pessimism Fairies. Now, there is a (rather interesting and entertaining) case to be made for pessimism, but in my case, it tends to be a paralytic, which is not ideal for getting anything done.

As the song above nicely demonstrates, the Pessimism Fairy whispers evil, nasty, cruel things into your ear about how you are the world’s most useless human being, in fact, that you only excel at being truly terrible at everything you put your hand to, and you might as well just give up, become a wino or jump off a cliff, and spare yourself further humiliation. The other, the Optimism Fairy, tries to buck you up and feebly pipes up in the background going, ‘Don’t listen! Lalalalaa, we can’t hear you, Pessimism Fairy! You have some talent, you have brains, you have something to offer the world, however small.’ (She’s good buds with my Muse.)

And which do you believe? When there is a world just full to bursting with talented people – some infinitely more talented than you – who are struggling to get anyone at all to notice them? And what is this talent that I supposedly posses worth? I paint pretty pictures that hang on a wall and at the very most make someone smile, but at the worst, just clutter up space. I can write some words, but it will never be a classic or say anything terribly profound. I can do some psych studies on mental imagery and flow that are interesting but ultimately useless, practically speaking. I don’t save lives. Oscar Wilde said it best, ‘All art is useless.’ What kind of a pointless gift is this art talent, IF that’s even what it is?

And then I swing the other way. Art = civilisation; when art dies, a civilisation crumbles. For all the people calling it arty-farty frivolous nonsense, that I should buckle down and get a REAL job as a lawyer or an engineer or a ‘real’ scientist, they would miss it if all art was suddenly taken away, if all the slightly softer edges were taken off the world and all that was left was the stark, hard stuff. As Gandhi said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”

I think I need a third fairy, the Realism Fairy.