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“If I Have To, I Will.”

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“A painter, a writer, whether it’s a man or a woman, is someone who says what he or she has to say about a given subject matter. If they are not able to do that, then they should stay home.”

I recently came across an interview with artist Françoise Gilot (thanks to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter) and fell in love. Her spunk, her sass, her stubborn resistance to be anything less than herself has been refreshing.

This year I’ve found myself unconsciously collecting the stories and names and artwork of older women who made, or are still making, art. Some of these women are in their 90s and yet they still paint or play music everyday.

Corita Kent, a nun and silkscreen artist; Sheila E., a percussionist and vocalist; and Viola Smith, a drummer who played during World War 2 and was still playing drums at the age of 100.

Viola Smith and the Coquettes

I’ve noticed that the artists I most admire are the ones who have something to say. Whether it’s songwriting or writing articles, I’ve found myself wondering what it is I have to say and if I have the guts to say it out loud.

Women like Gilot are refreshing in their bluntness, their refusal to be reasonable or compromising in their artistic vision. In an interview with The Guardian, Gilot (who is 94 when the interview happened) says:

“‘You might say that I am a little bit hard-boiled. I have to admit that I was never so much in love with anyone that I could not consider my own plan as interesting. It’s a bad idea that women have to concede. Why should they? That was not for me. Probably I was a bit ahead of my generation.’

She is so fierce and uncompromising, that, as I get up to leave, I wonder aloud whether Gilot derives energy from opposition. No, she says. It is, rather, a question of being able to confront the bad as well as the good. “You have no choice. That’s the way it is. So non, non, I don’t like to fight.” She gives me a challenging look, spiked with merriment. “But if I have to, I will.’”

As a musician it can be a challenge to be working in an industry that announces the next prodigy every second day. Worrying that I’ve passed my used by date, that it’s too late to do any meaningful work, that I’ll be too old to make it – all a load of bullshit when you see these women saying what they think and creating work, day in, day out.

My favourite quote at the moment (and one I plan to put above my desk in thick black marker) is from Zelda Malan, a lecturer at Kingston University.

“You can be the best or the worst, just don’t be boring.”