March 21st, 2016

Women's History Month - Mary Victoria

Mary Victoria is a London-based NZ writer and artist. I asked her for a very personal response to a rather large question, this WHM.

What do I do to survive? It’s a good question, because there are many kinds of survival: material, emotional, spiritual. The answer for me is that because there are so many, I need a range of skills. I need a personal sacred bag of tricks to keep me more or less sane, and centred, and free of noxious enchantments. It’s an ongoing struggle and I don’t always succeed.

For it's is a tough, if exciting time to be an artist, in this second decade of the twenty-first century, in our increasingly noisy, interconnected world. There’s so much to be said, and a shrinking number of ways to reach audiences already saturated by a screaming torrent of information. There’s a kind of lethargy to fight against, too, when attempting any sort of social comment. Why bother? Who’ll listen? That’s what I mean by enchantment. It’s as if we’re fighting an addiction, and I choose that word advisedly. Ignorance, bigotry, fear, greed: these things are drugs we’re mainlining at the moment. No one likes reality, it’s too difficult and complicated, and besides the problems are always someone else’s fault. Shut up and go away, leave me to my politics and my porn, my demagogues and demons. This world is full of opiates, maddened with them, so going cold turkey – let alone convincing anyone else to do so – is quite a business.

Any artist, man or woman, has to dig down, deep down, to find the reserves of strength necessary to create in circumstances inimical to creative expression. Here we are, living in a culture that prizes material wealth and success and couldn’t give a toss for love. You’re not supposed to make art unless you can “break through”, earn a tangible return and “succeed” in the free market. Never mind that art has always been an iffy business proposition, at best. God help most musicians, painters, writers, because those who manage to make a decent living from their art are few and far between. God help anyone who does it for love, an “amateur”. Amateur, the “one who loves”, has become a dirty word. It means you aren’t good enough, when really it should mean that you love enough.

There are plenty of insidious little distractions that assail us as artists. One is the business of money. Since when have overt popularity and success been the criterion for decent artistic output? If anything, historically, the formula goes the other way around. Another and linked distraction has to do with self-confidence. We’ve been taught that career success is the only measure for self-worth. Forget the pursuit of excellence, dedication to craft, artistic engagement or any desire to help others. The only way you can feel good about yourself is if you sell, sell, sell.

I would like to say, respectfully: that’s effing bs. Also, it’s very, very dull.

I have a bag of tricks, talismans and magic I use to keep the noxious spells at bay. Anyone can source the ingredients. They are our birthright as human beings, and cost nothing. To make one bag, obtain:

- Supportive allies.

- Creative critics.

- A sense of purpose.

- A sense of humour.

- A middle finger to flip when necessary, and occasion demands.