Saturday, 8 March 2014

Consulting the Compass

Work in Progress
photo collage

I got asked for the umpteenth time, “How long did it take you?”
And I answered as I always do, “All my life.”
That’s how long it took me to make each and every work I ever created, and that’s how long it will take me to make every work until the very last one I can make: All my life.
“What does that mean?” was the next question.
So I listed the answers:
-            Each work an artist makes is not a stand-alone object but the product of a process and an engagement that involves body, mind and spirit
-                 Art objects exist completely connected to who the artists are and where life has taken them; their choices are specific to their core personalities, their aesthetic and their philosophies of life.
-                 What you see in works of art is what the artists consider important and meaningful in life, expressed in media.
-                 Artists do not live in vacuums, they are products of their environments, their cultures, their eras, their socio-economic backgrounds, their politics, their conditioning and education, even their loves and failures; the choices they make as they render imagery is the sum total of all these factors.
-                 It takes years for artists to understand the medium, to control the tools, to establish a style, to recognize symbols and interpret impressions as imagery.
-                 Self-awareness and maturity are essential to a sustained practice led by intent, whether this intent is expressed visually or ‘academically’, that is, through accompanying written artists’ statements.
“My goodness! I thought artists just expressed,” was the response.
“Sure, but what? Don’t fool yourself, even children from the very first are deliberate in their expression, it’s adults who don’t get about what. To express, one has to express SOMETHING. It may seem that it begins as mindless instinct or pure gesture (like monkey or elephant art) but as artists experience and mature, their work can’t avoid becoming more intentional.”
“But it doesn’t always look like anything,” was the next comment.
“Only if you don’t think as you look, if you just want to ‘feel’,” I said. “Then you can miss the point entirely.”
So I was asked, “But how do you manage it? It takes all your life? How is that possible?”
“Because life takes all your life.” I said. “There are no shortcuts, in time there is just more and more of what inspired the imagery in the first place, clearer, more focused, more aware.”
“But how do you stick to it?” was the next question.
“Despite everything else is how. Oh, there are huge challenges! Many people drop out within a couple of years of trying because they are too accessible, too social, too unrealistic, maybe too lazy even. Artists have to accept that there’s nothing easy about it and get on with it.”
“There has to be a pay-off!” I was told.
            “It’s not usually a dollar and cent one,” said I.
I took pity. “There is a secret to it.  I wish someone had revealed it to me when I was going at it: as you develop your practice, learn as much of everything as you can possibly learn but never admit to being able to do anything else but make art! The conversation should go like this:            
“Can you compute?” they ask.
You reply: “Nope,”  
                                    “Can you teach?” they ask.
“No, sorry,” you answer.
                                    “Can you administer, manage or direct?” they persist.
“Heavens, no!” you reply.
“Can you manufacture, haul, drive, pilot, nurse, follow orders, count, cook, … “ they insist.
Looking appropriately contrite, you reply, “Alas, no.”
                                    “What CAN you do?” they want to know.
You smile innocently: “Just make art,” you reply.
            I added. “The problem with most artists, especially women, is that they need to prove to everyone that they can do everything. As a result, they get stuck having to do it. Is that dumb or what? Wanna be an artist? BE and artist.” 

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