Emma Howell

Catch-25: A Weird Brain in The Art World

Emma Howell
5 October, 2017


“I bet my brain is weirder than your brain”, said a customer yesterday, as I was running my Mum’s music shop. We were having a conversation about how all of us think differently and how life never pans out the way we imagined when we were younger. I didn’t know how to respond to what he said, so I just said, ‘who knows?!’ 


I’m 25 years old.

Why is it that when you’re a teenager, your twenties seem like they’re going to be easy-going and fun with a clear path of how your life is going to pan out? (Well, perhaps this is just how I felt.) When you’re in your twenties, wow- you’re going to be so grown up and it will be a time where you travel the world, soul-searching, meeting new people, getting offered opportunity after opportunity, then finally landing your dream job, settling into a grind you’re super comfortable with. Hey, perhaps you’ll even meet the love of your life along the way, elope in a tropical island and start thinking about the ‘baby’ word. Hah- I think not. My 15 year old self would be beside herself if she knew what being in her twenties entailed!

OK- it’s not all bad. I still get asked for ID when I buy a lottery ticket, so at least I still look 15. Then again, perhaps this isn’t a good thing..

Granted, many people, a couple of my friends in fact, have indeed done the travelling, settled in a good job and (I assume) are enjoying the grind of life. It is possible. But I can’t help but think about where I’ve gone wrong. Well, is it wrong or is it just different?



After talking with a friend, who is also a creative/artistic/perplexed type, I’m starting to realise that perhaps my life isn’t going the way I planned because of the way my brain is wired. It’s as if my brain is it’s own ‘catch-22’- I’m very idealistic, I have all these dreams and goals that I set myself but I’m too self-critical to do anything about them. Before I start walking down the path to these ‘unrealistic’ goals, I stop myself before I’ve even put my shoes on. Instead of just snapping out of it and getting on with the tasks at hand, I question my ability to the nth degree. I can’t do it. It will take too long. I’m not good enough. So, nothing gets done and life stays the same.

Hold on, it gets a little more complicated.

I then get fed up of life staying the same and can’t understand why it doesn’t change. The answer is written right here in front of me and yet, I still don’t understand why I’m in my mid-twenties with not much progression. I’m troubled with my own intellect and stupidity all at once. I’m analytical, able and dedicated in my approach of setting goals and imagining the endgame, but then become blank, careless and doubtful about the actions that are needed to be carried out to get to these goals. On top of this, if I do start a task, my impatience leaves me unsatisfied with the length of time it will actually take to complete.

Unfortunately, this brain wiring doesn’t bode well with a career in the art world. The art world is a very competitive, scary and difficult place to succeed. Quite often, galleries won’t even consider you if you don’t have an MA, multiple press features and numerous residencies under your belt, regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘innovative’ your artwork is.

On a personal level, I find this really hard to deal with. Due to my past indecisiveness and self-doubt, I’ve accumulated a student loan of over £40,000. This isn’t so much of a big deal because the pay back methods are quite chilled out here, but what it does mean is that I’m unable to apply for any other student-type loan. So, a Masters will only happen if I spend a year or so working to save for it. Granted, this is how most people get themselves through a Masters degree but I struggle to even envisage working 9-5 sat behind a desk or till any more than I already have. It’s a catch-22 all over again.

From recent experiences, I’ve learned that life is way too short to be unhappy in your everyday. When I look back on the days of working in retail, with the constant clock watching and longing to get home- that isn’t a life I want to live. I totally get it- woe is me! These are first world problems and to some degree I just need to suck it up and work like every other person to put food on the table and save for life things. However, there’s been something in my brain that hasn’t let me do it. My subconscious hasn’t allowed me to make decisions that cause me any unhappiness. Instead- I’ve just sat, daydreaming and longing for this life as a renown artist, expecting opportunities to be thrown at me from all directions.

Now, there’s nothing I want more than to work super hard in the right direction. But- what direction?



I’m sat here now, at what was my Dad’s desk, thinking about what he would do if he was me. It’s hard to tell- the amount of times he told me to quit my jobs in retail because of how unhappy they made me and the amount of times he told me to work for myself, it’s hard to know what to do. I’m asking the impossible now, but how do I get to where I want to be without sacrificing my happiness for one second? It’s taken me so long since my Dad passed away to get this happiness and I don’t want to let go of it. Sure, I’m not happy all the time- obviously. I still get very emotional about Dad, frustrated with my progress in the gym, angry at the news, jealous of other artist’s studio spaces, heartbroken about not being able to attend a certain exhibition in San Francisco and unsatisfied with the tasteless stir fry I just made- life can’t be happy all the time. But one thing I can control, is the happiness I feel in my everyday job.

Over the last few months, I’ve been making and selling artwork, which is great. But I want to dig deeper. I’m going to start fresh and make more of an effort to immerse myself into the real world of art, to meet other artists, attend events and visit galleries more frequently. I’m heading to London next week, want to meet for a coffee and talk about art?

In addition, I’m going to start from scratch and push the reset button with my studio practice. Therefore, my studio needs to be emptied. Find marked down original artwork at my shop.



Lately, I’ve been looking, listening, exploring and studying in order to develop a new process of making artwork. This artwork won’t just be medium on a surface, representing this and that, it will be artwork that is honest with an engaging disposition. In the past I’ve been selfish with my way of making artwork because I needed to be. Now that I’m on the other side of grief, where it’s less raw and more manageable, I’m now yearning to make honest artwork for myself and others.

For so long, I’ve taken where I live for granted. So, over the next few months, I’m going to hop in my Ford Fiesta (or Jon’s Audi when he’s acting as my chauffeur) and drive to places here in the UK, seeking colour, texture, sound and conversation.

With new adventures, will come new artwork and I’m labelling myself as an adventure artist.

Now I’ve just got to figure out how I’m going to actually do this.

Come on, brain. You’ve got this.