Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'If you're not careful you wake up one morning to find yourself, not awake but semi-comatose'
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I've felt so much happier the last few days. My mood has lifted enormously, simply because of some late-night Saturday artistic recreation. Last week I was really struggling with my painting. I was struggling so badly that I actually hated myself. I sat in my studio feeling really morose and every brushmark felt like another tick to failure. And every ounce of residue of self-loathing and fear that I have ever experienced constantly rose and bubbled to the surface.

I was listening to David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and the lyrics: "Five years, that's all we've got... five years, my brain hurts a lot..." felt as though they were smashing through my head with the power of some almighty jackhammer.

This is why I hate painting so much. I tried to get a grip on the reality of the situation.

I looked in the mirror and said to myself: "This is just completely spoilt behaviour. Monks are being shot in Burma. Women and children are being raped in Darfur. The list is bloody endless and I'm throwing a fit about the fact that I've just ruined three paintings." It was like that when I was a student. I used to bang my head against my studio wall, literally, in my absolute frustration of not being able to control and manipulate the paint how I wanted to.

The worst thing is the fear. Seriously, how can someone be afraid of a paintbrush and some paint? But I am. I sit there for hours just staring at it, trying to pluck up the courage and telling myself just to go for it, do it, come on. Sometimes I cling on to part of the canvas that I feel is OK, not brilliant, just OK. OK, when everything else on the canvas is shit. And then, like Saturday and Sunday, at two in the morning, when I have been drinking and I'm painting with the arms of a poltergeist, something magic happens. It happens because I push myself to an outside area where everything is just a little bit more dangerous. It's like jumping out of an airplane not knowing if your parachute is going to open. Really, in that situation, it's best to treat the fall like a trip of a lifetime.

That's what happened to me this weekend with my painting. Instead of everything being the spluttered mess of carnage, everything came together. I surprised myself and that is what art is about, or part of it. After you have been doing something for 20 years, you know what you are doing. You can close your eyes and do it and that can be soul-destroying. To muster the strength to redefine your own parameters, even in a small way, is very difficult. The mood swings, the highs and the lows of it, are quite painful, and most of the time it feels safer to be hanging out on the other side of feelings.

Faced with the daily prospects of failure and self-loathing, a numb chrysalis starts to develop around you, and if you are not careful you wake up one morning to find yourself not awake, but in a semi-comatose state, baked into a hardened shell, breathless and mind-numbing. You have to poke your finger through the hardened crispy shell, and after you've pushed it through you have to wiggle it about until eventually the hole is big enough to smash a whole fist through. That's what it feels like when I'm alone in my studio trying to paint.

But today everything feels different. Today my studio is calling me. The paintings are all really happy and the paint wants to be used. It's all spangly and exciting. There's almost nothing that I hate, or nothing that depresses me. This is a state of mind that is created by what I make, not the other way around. To know that I will be spending the rest of my life being controlled by my own creative output is exhausting. It's not a job, and if it were a job I would just do it, I would just get up and do it.

I'm not moaning. I'm trying to explain how it is. And there is a lot of pressure involved. Every exhibition, every show, builds up into some almighty crescendo, almost as if your brain is going to explode. It's not just the pressure of the deadline, but the battle to recreate and justify the things that you make. The world is full of so much stuff. Every second, every moment, things are rolling off a production line; our minds, our space, continually being contaminated with more and more things. That's why the justification is difficult.

What makes art more worthy, or what makes art, art? I would like boldly to say that it's the decision of the artist. That's true at the beginning, but of course that truth becomes mutated by the views of others. It's like the work of art has been ripped away from the artist and sails through the ether like a giant boomerang until it eventually returns home to the artist. I really feel like this about My Bed . The art goes out into the world and becomes so attacked that you feel that you have to defend it and protect it, as though it's almost human. But the strange thing is, a seminal work of art is actually much bigger and much stronger than the artist who made it. The idea will the eclipse the artist in their lifetime. So it's actually the art that protects the artist.

That's the way that I feel today. I feel that my art is looking after me, keeping me buoyant and well and truly alive.

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