“It just takes confidence!” is an oft-repeated phrase by the well-funded motivational speakers that would visit us at secondary school. I have to say, I usually get quite caught up in the rhetoric of motivational speakers. I find them captivating and satisfying. After a motivational speaker, the rest of my day was always great, filled with the soft, warm prospect of infinite possibility. ‘It just takes confidence’, Heck Yeah! It is of little surprise then that having embraced dance as a creative career, tripping, stumbling and hiccuping, that I now find myself confused. Confidence seems almost to have deserted me. I find doubt, more than confidence, has proved to be more of an accomplice in my bid for artistic expression.

A current major doubt of mine is that my ideas appear to form far too quickly. From initial thought, until a project is conceptually fully formed, often is less than half-an-hour. How outrageous! And whether or not the idea is good, I’m racked with guilt that the process is so fast; many artists stew for years over their ideas before a finished product. Here I am ready to create in less time it takes to make dinner!

Briefly, I worked in a dealer gallery. The bigger artworks were usually higher in price and vice-versa. I questioned this and found that prices were usually set by how long the work had taken to make. So the bigger the work, the longer it took, the more it cost. As far as the gallery was concerned, bigger works had greater value. As a dance artist, sometimes a conceptual dance artist this places doubt in my mind. Does a conceptual art work that takes time to produce, have greater value than a burst or spark of uncontrollable creativity? At this point, confidence seems an attractive option

However, I must let go off confidence, I must. It’s inadvisable to rely on confidence, as doubt, it seems, has forever been of utmost service to a myriad of artists. Sue Webster, of the Tim Noble/Sue Webster duo, credits artistic doubt as the primary reason behind her impressive success on the British fine-arts scene. Doubt generates questions. Questions are what art is about. Doubt can produce a depth of idea that overconfidence cannot. In terms of the dance world, Pina Bausch has said in a number of interviews, despite her reputation for epic-long productions, that each time she was to make a new work she doubted whether or not she had it within herself to produce an entire show.

Many other artists, too, promote doubt as a way of giving their work an edge of quality. Unsure of their work, their ideas are open to adaptation and morphing. Constant questioning gives rise to a higher quality of work. With my limited experience of choreography, it is commonly said that one should be open to the notion that an idea or theme could completely change from the original intention into something quite contrastive; it is well acknowledged that this can produce dance of excellence.

However, doubt can be a destroyer too. Vincent van Gogh is probably the most eminent of many artists whose fame was posthumous. During his lifetime, van Gogh sold only one painting. His lack of success bred insecurity, which eventually contributed to his suicide at thirty-seven.

Knowing there are many artists whose success is minimal despite the merit of their work, and that such a situation, along with the doubt it engenders, can result in unfortunate unhappiness, disillusionment and dissatisfaction, it is important to argue the merits of doubt’s sensible, older brother, confidence. If doubt is the carbohydrate, then confidence is the protein. Doubt is the high octane fuel of artistic production, while confidence is an additive when supplementary stamina is required. Confidence is prudent too, if not imperative, with the need to promote your work. If you don’t have faith in your work, it’s unlikely that others will.  For all of that, in authentic artistic production, doubt still shepherds the brave, a foundation ingredient.

Jealousy, I’m convinced, is a by-product of doubt. I have no doubt that I’m in good company when I say that I do not enjoy the success of others, even if that’s putting it a little more sharply than I mean. It doesn’t even have to be a ‘traditional’ success in the shape of wide praise and acceptance; even when I appreciate another’s work, completely approve of it, I discover myself covetous. I’m envious and want to be the catcher of that appreciation, and have the wherewithal to pull off a success. I’m certain this derives from my own manifest doubt. Of course, I don’t believe jealousy should be avoided, or even denied, although probably it’s best to politely mask it. Perhaps jealousy indicates a vibrant art community. If all about you has the stench of jealousy, you must be doing something right, or, if not, you are at least in the company of others who are!

Where dance has sat behind other art disciplines, such as painting, sculpture, photography and even drama, it seems now a bloom in the vase of legitimate art form. To progress, doubt will provide a service. It will help us question whether our work is pushing boundaries, remaining relevant and poignant. Embrace doubt and have confidence that it will produce good art. And remember to warmly welcome its tetchy cousin, jealousy.

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