Friday 21 October 2011

The Wonder & Terror of Insider Art: Or, Why I Can't Follow Emily's Example by Amy Palko

Don't Disturb! Writer At Work

Photo by Amy Palko

The cursor hovers over the Publish button, my finger poised over the mouse.

The words had flowed easily, effortlessly. Spilling out from the tips of my fingers onto the keyboard. A stream of black type filling the white digital space on my text document.

And it had felt so good. An alchemical process of thoughts, that danced like dust motes in the late afternoon sun, metamorphosing into words… then clauses... then whole sentences that linked together to convey emotion, action, narrative.

The bliss that I find in the writing process is undeniable - my addiction of choice. The high I get from writing so much more profound and infinitely longer-lasting than the temporary buzz from one or two glasses of rose wine too many, or, when I used to smoke, the nicotine hit from that first cigarette of the day.

But sharing those words… sharing them is another issue altogether.

While the act of writing the words feels magical, instinctive heartwork, the publishing of those words often leaves me trembling. My heart quickens, not with joy, but with anxiety. The butterflies in my belly stir, not with excitement,t but with fear that in sharing my words with the world, I am leaving myself ever more vulnerable.

And it doesn't seem to matter if the words that I am sharing form a personal blog post, a piece of poetry or a fragment of fiction. The physical fear response is the same. The lizard brain kicks in and I have always been one for flight over fright or freeze.

I sometimes think that it would be so much easier if I just wrote, just revelled in the writing process, and left the publication of words to someone else.

When I was a masters student I attended a post-graduate conference on the theme of Outsiders. One of the panels I attended was on something called 'Outsider Art'. This was a completely new area of research to me; something I had never even guessed existed, the concept so completely foreign. Outsider Art is that which is produced with no intention of being shared with the wider world. These artists just opt out of the whole economic system of art and produce only from the place in them that needs to create. They lack that drive, that need to launch their work out into the world.

There are arguments that the great poems of Emily Dickinson are an example of Outsider Art. The majority never published in her lifetime - a lifetime spent mostly closeted away from the machinations of society, of culture - they're viewed by some as poems never intended for sharing. Small perfectly crafted parcels of words, held close to the skin: cherished, perfected, hidden.

And in this day and age, with our social media accounts, our personal blogs, our reality tv, we are being conditioned, in some ways, to share more and more of ourselves. Of our art, our words, our voice. Stripping back the veils layer by layer, no wonder we are left in fear of our nakedness, our vulnerability.

Yet, there is value in sharing our creativity, is there not? If there were no benefits to doing so, then so many of us wouldn't be doing it, would we? Certainly, in myself I recognise a desire to share that competes with the fear, the anxiety - a desire that stems from the knowledge gained from experience.

You see, I have shared much, and in return, I know that I have made a difference.

My words have brought laughter and tears. My words have evoked empathy, compassion and connection. My words have given aha moments. My words have stirred the soul and quickened the breath. My words have resonated.

This is why I could never follow Emily's example. I am not an Outsider Artist: I write from my place on the inside. The inside of networks of production and consumption. The inside of the vast networks of exchange, the ever-widening webs of communication. I write from the inside of me to connect with the inside of you. An act of courage, I believe, which is worth the risk of rejection, of ridicule, of potential repercussion.

And so, the cursor hovers over the Publish button and, leaning into the fear, the anxiety, the vulnerability, I click.

A true lover of stories, Amy Palko spends her days reading, writing and dreaming… well, that is when she's not being kept busy with her three children whom she home-educates! She is the creatrix behind Bloom by Moon, an online learning community of women exploring goddess myths and moon cycles through story, journalling, visualisation and creative exercise.


  1. A great post! Made me stop and think about why I blog, and publish photos of my art, etc. I too pause in fear over the "publish" button, but ultimately must release my fledgling words and creations into the universe. I want to share myself with others; to be of some comfort, pleasure or benefit to other people.

  2. As I read this post which evoked, as many of your posts do, that sense of hesitation, vulnerability and truth, my heart began to tell me a story. It said, the reason we create for full view so much more willingly than someone like Emily is because as a society we've now moved to that level of sharing. For us to reclaim vulnerability and love, our tenderness and frailty needs expression to touch others and let them know it's ok to be true. Just as you describe x

  3. Great post, Amy. It's funny - when I had my own personal LiveJournal blog, I never had any anxiety over the quality of my writing. I know I'm a good writer who can string sentences together comprehensibly (and sometimes even concisely!) and I LOVED to communicate through the written word.

    Ditto when I'm at work, as a copywriter for a natural health and wellness company. I'm totally relaxed about the quality of my writing there - it's not always exactly what my client wants on the first go, but I'm happy to work with them to get whatever I've written to the point where it is.

    But suddenly when I started my Crystal Clarity blog, I found myself second-guessing almost everything I write for it. It all seems too wordy, too dense, too... something. I'm hoping this is just a beginner's phase I'm going through as I move into a new area of my life. But whether it is or isn't, I totally understand what you mean about the fear of sharing your work...

  4. Wow, I love this. You are great with a phrase, and it's so interesting to get to see inside another writer's inner process! I love it. So glad you keep choosing on the side of sharing! It's good for your readers.

  5. I'm fascinated by the words that come from that place - for ourselves, from ourselves, not crafted as Art or Writing or Poetry but with the power to move, connect, transform both reader and writer. I feel blessed to live in times where it's possible for us to share in communities and networks big and small - and grateful that you keep choosing to click :-)

  6. I love this post!

    I'm glad to hear you're not going to become an outsider artist. However fulfilling that may be for some people, I tend to lean into what Steven Pressfield (author of the War of Art) is saying: When choosing between creative projects, do what gives you the most fear, that is where you have the most to gain.