Dear Tracey Emin,
A long-time fan of your work, I was struck recently by the words you quoted on Instagram from your friend David Dawson: ‘Painting’s not just about painting but it’s also about waiting.’ I completed my MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2020, with our in-person degree show taking place in 2021 due to the pandemic, and perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned since finishing my studies is that patience is integral to the artistic process, and often the most difficult part of it.
I am not, by nature, a patient person. I am precocious, restless, always anxious that I am not living enough, not working enough, not loving enough or experiencing enough. Making art therefore, is often an act of slowing myself, making myself reflect on, understand and appreciate the ways that I am growing that might lie under the surface until a painting is finished and I realise that I have travelled somewhere new. I am interested in whether this patience is something that you feel you have learned over the course of your career, or whether it was an instinctual reflex from the time you began making art? For me, it has definitely been a learning process, but it becomes more instinctual and deep-rooted the longer I practice it.
Then, I also wonder how much of this practice of patience is linked to whether we trust ourselves as artists — can we let the painting lay there for a few hours knowing the idea of what to do next will come to us? Can we take breaks from making work knowing that when we rest, our minds will return to the work with renewed vigour? Can we, on a most basic level, trust ourselves to know when to start and stop painting as you mentioned in your post? I am curious to know whether your concept of self-trust, of confidence in your own artistic voice, is linked to patience. I say this as I am at the beginning of my career, and I find that my impatience often stems from a desire to prove myself to myself — to finish a work so I can see as quickly as possible that I have done it, that I could do it. To make more work so that I can see I am able to produce a portfolio, to push myself so that I can show my own mind that I am really an artist. I there always wonder if this will calm down as I grow more experienced; if perhaps this is a stage in my development, and patience will feel more my natural state as I learn more unequivocally that I am an artist, no matter how much thinking time I take between each layer of paint.
Lastly, your musings on patience also made me consider the ways that perhaps social media (and the pressure on artists to post on it) has slightly eroded the emphasis on patience within the field of making. I think this is particularly evident in visual art, where our work is often the ideal type of art to be turned into posts, therefore creating even more pressure to do so. I think it is in danger of creating a feeling in many artists that they are not doing well, not producing good work, if it is not on Instagram — a feeling that the work doesn’t exist unless other people online see it. While of course, art doesn’t live in the same way until it’s seen by an audience, I do think that it’s becoming less and less accepted to hide away in your own space and make work to later reveal. It’s much more normal to update people throughout the process, to have your own space online where you also document your life. And I am guilty of enjoying this content too — I love getting to see the ways that artists make work, read their thoughts, see inside their lives. But I do want there to still be space for this patience, for the act of stepping away and thinking. Space to wait physically, mentally and emotionally for the next way to move forward. I would be intrigued to hear your thoughts on this subject of patience, and how it interacts with social media, and I will look forward in the meantime to seeing more of your work, particularly from your latest show, which is stunning.