My art is a house party

This blog was prompted by a tweet from Amelia Ideh (@putmeonit): “I so dearly wish more artists could differentiate between people not liking their music and not liking them.” It really got me thinking, which is why I’m typing this at 5:40am.

It’s weird being an artist. So often, so much of what you put into your art is so personal that a failure to connect with or appreciate it is a failure to appreciate or connect with you. The analogy that’s often drawn is that “your art is your baby”. I disagree with that analogy, though. If my art was my baby I wouldn’t care what anyone thought of it: my approval would be sufficient. If my art was my baby I would love it and nurture it and be proud of it when it faltered and failed to run, let alone walk. If my art was my baby I could sit alone with it for hours and smile into its young, trusting eyes and tell it that it was going to turn out just fine. I would stretch one arm around both of its shoulders and cup its head in my other palm, forming with my body a loving barrier between it and a fickle world. So my art isn’t my baby.

My art isn’t my baby, it’s a house party I’ve thrown for the whole world that I desperately hope that they will enjoy. I’ve sat preparing my art carefully, I’ve got the decor and the food just right, I’ve sorted the playlist, and I’ve put on my best clothes; I’ve drawn up the guestlist, which includes everyone, and I’ve thrown open the doors.

The house party is meant to start at 7 but of course no-one arrives at the party bang on the the scheduled time, if they do you’re suspicious. You always hope that your best mates will arrive early, and some of them do; but some of them can’t make it till later, and those who can’t make it all make their polite apologies, and that’s fine. After all, it’s only a party. And after the first couple of anxious hours, when you worry that no-one at all is going to turn up, a flood of partygoers pour through the door, and you feel a flood of relief.

And that’s what I must remind myself that my art is like. Every few years I take on a huge new creative project, which is invariably of great risk and which always seems like a brilliant idea at the time. One year, it was a football book which took the form of a response to dozens of responses to a questionnaire. Another year, it was a novel based on Othello written entirely in rhyming couplets. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, the football book was and is a career highlight. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, the Othello book was poo.

Both the football book and the Othello project were house parties that I threw for the entire world. I put them out there into the arms of publishers and promoters and hoped the planet would like them. But hard work and great organisation don’t make for a successful house party. Sometimes people just won’t feel it.
(Hey, some people don’t even like house parties.)

So, when it comes to my art, what I should think carefully about is who I’m putting on the guestlist, and why. If the house party isn’t great, I can always throw another, better one. Maybe there are people out there I should invite who I don’t even know yet. And if not everyone wants to come raving with me, then that’s fine too.

Musa Okwonga is a director of Poejazzi. He is a poet, musician and football writer: you can find his electronica project The King’s Will here, and you can read his blogs for the Independent here.


About Charlotte Morgan Nwokenna

Editor and Public Relations Officer
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One Response to My art is a house party

  1. PMOI says:

    Morning Musa, sorry to keep you from sleep!

    I wrote that tweet after considering not responding to a message yesterday from an artist I know and like very much as a person, but felt the music they sent me was underdeveloped. I just couldn’t handle another artist taking it badly (luckily for me they didn’t, I think).

    People tell me “if they ask for feedback they should be able to take it”, but they don’t have to look in to the eyes of someone who is clearly very hurt by it. It wouldn’t be so bad if the hurt look was gone by the next time you see them, but sometimes your relationship is changed irrevocably – they try to hide it but when they smile at you doesn’t reach their eyes anymore.

    The problem with this – “so much of what you put into your art is so personal that a failure to connect with or appreciate it is a failure to appreciate or connect with you” is it’s a lot to ask.

    I run events now and it’s a tough one – generally my friends do come just to support me, if they don’t enjoy it that’s a shame and I’m sure there are reasons, but at least they came out and that’s all I can really ask of them. After a while I started to realise some of my biggest supporters are people I’ve never even met and have done nothing for, they like what I do rather than my personality – they don’t even know me, which is the ultimate goal – for it to stand up on it’s own.

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