A blog about the hierarchies in our heads
Part of a series of things to pass on – thing four
Over the past few months I have been experiencing a lot of dreams about my time at Battersea Arts Centre. It’s like my brain is sorting through a filing cabinet marked Battersea.
And just in case I’ve been feeling any more confident towards the end of my time in Battersea, my dreams have been exploring all my worst vulnerabilities.
I had a dream about Dominic Cavendish – the theatre critic from The Telegraph. In this particular dream I was literally chasing Dominic across London to try and get him to come to Battersea Arts Centre.
Think low-budget Bourne Identity. But rather than saving the world – I was trying to get a review for an artist.
Everywhere I went Lyn Gardner kept popping up; telling me not to worry.
Later in the dream it became clear that Dominic had unexpectedly been to Battersea and had actually reviewed the show. I heard it had been posted on the front of the building in massive neon letters.
I doubled-back to Battersea. I could see in the distance that it had six stars showing but only stars one, two and four were illuminated.
Was this a reflection of his response to the show? Or was something wrong with the building again?!
As I stared at the neon, someone whispered in my ear that there were subliminal messages in the text of Dominic’s review.
I returned to central London – pursuing him again through the streets of London – on a quest for meaning.
Lyn continued to pop up in different guises: having lunch with Donald Hutera; working in a box office; each time she offered soothing advice.
In essence she was telling me to chill the fuck out.
Then my 1 year old son woke me up for his breakfast and I never found out what Dominic’s review actually meant.
My dream represented a whole load of weird hierarchical shit that I create around reviews, press and an anxiety to please.
I have never been much good at the press thing as an artistic director. I have always felt illegitimate in trying (and usually failing) to have conversations with critics and people whose job it is to write a running commentary about culture.
With the exception of a few people like Lyn, Susannah Clapp and Maddy Costa, who have the gift of making you feel legitimate, with anyone else, I just hear voices in my head shouting “YOU’RE TALKING SHIT – THEY DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANYTHING YOU’RE SAYING – YOU’RE NOT A REAL ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ANYWAY”.
It’s quite distracting.
This is one of the hierarchies in my head that can, if I am not careful, manage my life.
Does everyone have them?
I am reminded of Bryony Kimming’s I Am A Phoenix, Bitch in which she tells us about the middle-aged, swaggering male TV executive in her head who provides a running commentary on her work.
These hierarchies often gnaw away at our confidence – suggesting to us what we can or can’t do.
Perhaps we should all have a group workshop or something – and have a concerted go at telling them to fuck right off.
We all suffer from them don’t we? Have you got one? If so, what’s yours?
Occasionally, when I have the hierarchy in my head under control, and I am talking to a journalist, I sense that they are also listening to an internal narrative.
“STOP TALKING TO THIS DICK, HE’S NOT MAKING ANY SENSE. IF YOU DON’T FIND A PROPER ARTIST TO WRITE ABOUT YOUR WRITING CAREER IS FUCKED.”
Try listening to Radio 4’s Saturday Review and tell me that there isn’t a producer somewhere with a voice shouting inside their head.
“YOU’VE GOT TO MAKE IT PROPER – PROPER ART – PROPER INTELLECTUAL DISCUSSION – NO COMMUNITY SHIT – ARTY ART – COME ON, GET IT TOGETHER.”Who’s the hierarchy in their head?
Dominic and I – so I am going to call mine Dominic – have had to learn to live together.
But I think it’s important that we also to learn to ignore these hierarchical influencers.
Because if we do not then – just as the dad says in Strictly Ballroom – we “live our lives in fear”.
Fear of what Dominic will say.
Fear of not living up to Dominic’s standards.
Fear of Dominic’s friends – who all agree with Dominic.
But as well as our own mental health – I think there is also a more nuanced reason why we need to win this battle.
Something which is not about ourselves. But about everyone else.
I think the hierarchies in our heads can often reduce the world around us to a series of binary opposites.
By their very nature, hierarchies, encourage us to place one thing above another. Creating a more linear and binary world.
This might seem like a tangent – but stick with me…
Try observing the debate about the Arts Council’s evolving 10 year strategy.
It’s been interesting to see the way that a number of cultural commentators have jumped on the idea of “relevance” – and placed it in direct opposition to “excellence” or “quality”.
Perhaps this is an example of the hierarchies in their heads encouraging them to think that one thing is more important, or better, or must be prioritised, over another.
Whilst our psychology might seek to reduce things to good and bad, to most and least important, to value one thing above another, the world around us operates in a different way.
Complex systems and ecologies rely on multiple things all being important at the same time.
I think the hierarchies in our heads can encourage us to miss this important fact.
So when it comes to human created things (like cultural policy!) we seek to create all kinds of unhelpful hierarchies when actually, what we really need to do, is to nurture a complex ecology.
Please can we embrace complexity? Could we stop reducing culture to series of binary opposites? Excellence or relevance? Elitism or populism? Artists or audiences? Can we stop asking questions like what comes 1st? And could we all get better at thinking how we support an ecology? https://t.co/c8ebSV2W1B— David Jubb (@davidjubb) April 15, 2019Tweet I sent this week in response to piece in Stage
We need to get better at embracing complexity.
And getting better at ignoring the hierarchies in our heads is a step towards achieving that.
A good first step is to break down more of the hierarchies outside our heads – in the real world.
I remember when I stopped introducing myself as “artistic director of BAC” and started to introduce myself by saying that “I work at BAC”, I found I actually had better conversations with members of the Battersea community and often with artists too.
An artist actually apologised to me the other day in case they had been weird around me over the years. (They had not.) They explained that they often find themselves being weird around artistic directors.
Ironic – and crazy – when I have always felt like an imposter artistic director.
If we all work together to break down the hierarchies in the real world it will help us all to get better at breaking down the ones in our own heads.
Let’s work together to embrace creative complexity.