Tate Etc

Agony Artist: Dear Mx Mavis

Introducing Mx Mavis, Tate Etc.’s resident ‘agony artist’. In the first of a new series, they help solve some of the problems troubling our readers. Submit your own question for the next issue!

Photo © Ajamu X

How do I incorporate more play into my work? It feels so serious a lot of the time …

Dear ‘I need more play’,

Oh dear, how can I put this? Maybe you should find work that excites you Anyway… I don’t think play and work should be mutually exclusive. Playing is no less serious than working. Think ‘plorking’ (playing and working – sounds sexual, I know).

Start your day with a playful ritual or two; incorporate creative tools and strategies into your day-to-day work; finish on time and shut down for the day; and – most importantly – leave work behind both physically and emotionally. Your evenings should be a time to relax, read fiction, watch trashy movies, spend quality time with loved ones. No internet or social media.

There is a wonderful book ( for you Millennials, please Google what a book is) called The Artist’s Way at Work (1998). This might be useful.

Mx Mavis

The idea of putting my art out into the world fills me with dread. I’m afraid it will be rejected by people I respect. How can I stop worrying about what other people think?

Dear ‘Dread-filled artist’,

How can I say this politely: Why are you giving people you respect so much power? Respect should be earned and not automatically given.

The best way to stop worrying is to tell yourself this: once the work is out in the world, it is no longer yours. It will be pushed and pulled in all directions. What people think won’t always be negative and you should see your work as creating conversations.

Your worry could be about a lack of confidence in your work and ideas. Your art will never be for everyone. And – if the feedback from people you respect is not given from a nourishing or gentle place, then you must question what your respect is really based upon.

Mx Mavis

I have a massive crush on Annie Swynnerton’s Count Zubov c.1908–9. Why do I find fantasy more enticing than reality?

Dear ‘Enticing fantasies’,

I hate to say it, but maybe you are beyond bored with your real-life relationships? That said, I think fantasy is always more enticing than reality. It can allow us to escape (albeit temporarily) our sometimes banal lives.

Fantasy, mythmaking and fictional desire have had an important place in many cultures for centuries. Real life can be full of dread, and fantasy (as long as it’s not damaging) can open portals to other possibilities, or ways of creating relations, that can be more experimental, more playful, more pleasurable…

Mx Mavis

Whenever I walk around galleries, I look at each artwork for just a few seconds. Should I be spending more time with each one?

Dear ‘A few seconds’,

Dear, dear… Why spend time travelling to galleries, maybe paying an entrance fee, to look at beautiful artworks for only a few seconds? Put it this way: if sex lasted only a few seconds, I am sure you would not be happy!

Looking at art should be like sensual foreplay. You spend time, you let the work seduce you, you have conversations, you’re present. We are so used to being on smartphones, spending our time swiping, seeing but not looking. We have lost the art of slowing down.

My recommendation? See smaller exhibitions, go at quiet times, if possible. Big shows create an atmosphere in which speed is embedded in the process of looking. Engaging with art should never be like a quick shag (although there’s nothing wrong with that). Savour the pleasure of slow looking, savour the pleasure in engaging with your senses.

Mx Mavis

Do you have a problem that only Mx Mavis can solve? Submit your question to tate.etc@tate.org.uk for your chance to be featured in the next issue.

Mx Mavis is Ajamu X, an artist, curator, archivist and activist who lives in London.