My performance as an artist and an individual is something that has evolved over an extended period of time. As a young child, I fell into a social role already established for me by my parents and their religious community. I was supposed to be a sweet girl, respectful of authority and quick to obey with a smile. My early artistic endeavors were indulged as a kind of play suitable for a little girl. I played my part with sincerity, believing that I was “being myself” despite having had little opportunity to construct much of a self.
Adolescence and a growing sense of emotional separation from my parents, fueled in part by newly divergent ideological positions, shifted my awareness of my place in my family structure. I became a much more cynical performer in the presence of any audience which included a family member or fellow congregant, as I neither believed any longer in the front under which I was operating nor felt able to express a truer version of myself around anyone with the exception of close friends. At times when I attempted to drop the pretense and answer questions honestly, talking about my actual interests and goals, my audience would note, alternately amused and suspicious, that it’s “rare to meet a conservative artist.” My inability to admit to being different, even as I failed to conform to the expected formula, led to an anxious and short-tempered manner that belied my accommodating appearance and eventually to a great deal of poor communication, resulting in frustration for everyone involved.
Claiming more emotional and functional independence over the course of the past few years has enabled me to address aspects of my own performance and to begin to alter it until it feels more honest. I can now give people sincere answers about my beliefs and my goals; I can dress eccentrically (as artists are apparently “supposed to” do) if I choose without my “modesty” or gender presentation being policed–or not, if I don’t feel like it. I am free to devote a large amount of time to furthering my artistic pursuits and to take part in impassioned conversation about the value of art to society without once being demanded to financially justify access to the arts in the midst of a recession.
Yet setting still plays a large role in the ways in which I interact with people. While physical distance from my family affords me the freedom to present myself as I am, or wish to be, most of the time without fear of immediate repercussion, I find myself relapsing into the role of cynical swindler during routine communication with them, subconsciously censoring everything from the ideas I want to share to the language with which I express them. In a way, this continued self-editing often affects the rest of my everyday performance, causing me to revert to old habits of secretiveness, despite believing that such suppression is neither healthy nor necessary.