Tag Archives: art practice

Debunking the Myth of the Artist?

I stopped writing. Suddenly, I had nothing more to say than the occasional 140 characters on Twitter. But a student showed me something she wrote – something so honest and painful and here I am again. What particularly struck me was the belief of my students that anything was possible in my studio class. Anything. And that, just that, reduced me to tears. What have I done?

In building the myth, I broke my own heart.

This myth of the artist is a notion I need to address over and over – in my work and in teaching young people who want to make things. The sheer responsibilty of it scares me silly. Every day I am frightened of what I might be doing. I am not ashamed, I am simply very, very scared.

I found something I wrote a few years ago in a statement of purpose for something I barely recall.  And all I could read in it was the damn myth:

If I were to really think about it, the question simply asks me who I am. Or maybe, what I am. Or what I think I am. This, ofcourse, existing within the context of art-making and studying art. Then who indeed is this I? And what makes me different or distinct as a student and an artist? I am compelled to make art. Whenever something happens, I make art about it. I don’t even know what to call it anymore. It has become a default process. A reflex action. I document my life through my work. I tell my story through my work. It is my language – a language I’m still learning how to speak.

It is the honest truth, but what rot! It sounds like emotional bullshit.

Can I claim this makes me distinct? I’m just trying to understand who I am. Perhaps my work can help others understand something. I question the functionality of art-making. I question what it can do. I value teaching, which has helped me as I have helped my students. I want to continue teaching for the rest of my career.

And then the justification:

There is a question others ask me, and I ask myself: What good is any of this? What is the point of it all? I cannot know everything all at once but I do know it’s important in the greater scheme of things. Artists represent the time and space of now.

It all sounds so thought out and complete and utter bullshit at the same time. The truth is, I don’t know what good it is anymore. I don’t know if what I do makes any sense. I have no clue.

Yesterday, a friend told me quite truthfully that he didn’t get my work. And he sounded apologetic. And that made me very sad indeed. Why should he feel the need to apologize? You either like something or you don’t. You either care or you don’t. This insane pressure to understand and appreciate art also frightens me. All I did was make a few drawings because I was pining away for somebody who doesn’t give a shit. And then I put it up on the wall to satisfy my exhibitionist urge to display my tragic broken heart. And my friend was apologizing for not getting it and for not liking it as much as he assumed I wanted. So this is what it comes to?

I am sick of the myth. I am sick to death of the pressure this myth puts on other people. Good people who are kind and generous. Also, I hate what the myth does to us – to the artists who live it. To young students who believe in it because you (as their teacher/mentor) look so cool spreading it like it was the absolute. You make them think it is all OK and then they face the world as handicapped as you are. With no weapons but the myth itself.

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Inbetween Days

The summer is always a dangerous time. I hide in the summer. It is an old habit. And so, I find myself sleepless and introspective, with too many images floating in my head. I have no choice but to make sense of them. If nothing, I might produce tangible images even if they are only castles made of sand.

What is incoherence? When does meaning collapse? What is responsibility? My body in space is moving and I make a space, a shape in the world. My language rides on my back. My culture rides on my back. I cannot shake them off.

These are inbetween days. And I suffer them. Suffering reveals what is otherwise hidden. But sentimentality can be cloying. Orlan calls her art carnal. Is that like pinning butterflies on walls?

Once upon a time, a woman called Sumaiyya said intellect is irrelevant. She flipped her dark hair and turned her insane gaze on me and said find your instincts. Intellect is illusion.

The instinct to flee and hide takes over. But what about movement and line? One cannot ignore the flesh of the line. Requiems. Subtle grays of memories. Distracted by anticipation of passion. See, connect and do. Connect the dots. Connections are liberties taken in whimsical moments. Yellow piss in a bar. Objects of desire. All flesh and not flesh. So looking for flesh becomes a purpose. Even in lines moving downside up and sideways.

derivations and real behaviors
filling and emptying shells
flickering between violations
inspite and despite visceral visions
deleting instances of discomfort
making clear and unclear remote and indistinct
traitorous, perfidious scum rising to the surface
inbetween days

The Pain of Perspective

Pain: 1. A symptom of some physical hurt or disorder; 2. Emotional distress; a fundamental feeling that people try to avoid; 3. A somatic sensation of acute discomfort; 4. Something or someone that causes trouble; a source of unhappiness

Afflicted with insomnia, I can’t help thinking about where I am now. Everything that surrounds me seems surreal at best. This place, this time and all that has happened in a past few years. Nobody said it would be easy.

 Embody: 1. Represent in bodily form; 2. Represent, as of a character on stage; 3. Represent or express something abstract in tangible form. Personify. Substantiate.

Is meat an abstract notion? Is flesh an abstraction?

On 03/27/07 navin hyder wrote: they dont represent the body, they are the body.

Bodily discharge and libidinal expulsions. These are some of my favorite things. What makes the body real? A sensory experience, perhaps. The realization or awareness of physicality. Such is the body. What is my body?

What is inside me? Inside the ox? Are we all the same inside? Confess your sins. And even then, what is inside remains. Practice with patience your private voyeurism. Why is my body changing? My body, my personal mythology; movement, to and from. Where does it begin and where does it end?

I hate hearts, he said. Have some if you want some.

Some things are felt but not seen. Pulling it out from somewhere, you don’t know where it came from. You see the transparent? You see and don’t see. Not intrusive? Intrude with transparency. Words become images and now what do you see? Do we see anything at all? Inside dark places and spaces, do you see anything at all?

Nonsensical truths in make believe.

Round and round I go. Nonsensical truths in make believe, indeed. Where do all these dreams come and go? I wonder why things are the way they are. Why must I recalibrate myself to fit into spaces that I don’t even care for?

Dream – collaboration between A and Nadia, netmedia drawing, 2005

Memory is seductive. It draws you. You draw it. Losing sense of self. Seductive poetic fantasies. Tired sun caught in a net. My body in space. Spaces insideout and outsidein. Strange powers. Some stories never get old. Light and dark and shade. So long Mr. Grey.

Pulling it out of somewhere. You don’t know where it came from. Drawing it out. You see the intrusive transparency now? Membranes and skin. Seductive veils. Do I see anything at all? Meat. If you cannot see, then you can only feel.

Maybe baby. Things could be the same yet different. Duality vs. Unity. Many vs. One. How now cow? She cries, she flies. Do you remember anything Nadia?

Memory = Lies?

We are all liars? Cutting ties, building lies. Forgetting and unforgetting. What is the space between? Sitting here, I can’t tell. Where am I situated? Between truths and lies, maybe.

Isn’t everything a pattern? Looking for signs in the dark; god, have you left me in the dark? Looking for signs. They were looking for perfection. Humans being.

There is something about spaces. I make a space. I make space.

Hysterical notions. Out of touch. Out of reach. Take it to my knees. There is no substitute for a one way street. Closer now. Parts and one. Soul and identity. Identifiable categories of soul within outside manifestation. Slip into madness. Slip into what is right and wrong. What is normal? I have a perverse interest in perversion.

What isn’t transgression? Stay up and make some memories. Who is watching me smiling to myself as the orange lights pass by the window? Midnight rolls. Living within structures and systems. Don’t you dare! But it’s only one foot out of the door.

Do you freefall once the rules are gone? Do you fall apart when there is no up and down?

I dance in your head and I make disco lights. I’m a dancing brain. Jiggling encephalon. I’m more man than machine. What about you? Are you meat?

Let’s go eat the heroes. Let’s go eat right and wrong. Up and down. Even sideways. I don’t know right from left anyway. Or left from right. But life goes on.

How many of my memories are not made up? With my mind made up too; a game of pretend. A story told and told again, a ball of string growing and growing and growing…and then myths emerge. My personal myths. How many lies, Nadia? She doesn’t know, really. The smell of bread at age five, at the little shop down the street. The red airplane. Look, it really flies. Dusty days. Remote control. Mangoes become soap. Rub it all over your body. The mango seed is orange soap. Mosquitoes like dots on my arms. Feeling my stomach curve outwards. What’s happening to me?! Bumps and lumps. Fingernails painted halfway. Henna sometimes. Isn’t it beautiful. Goat head in the driveway. Blood on the streets. Lazy days hiding from the sun. She’s crazy, that daughter of mine. Weirdo, freak, lunatic. She screams when they hurt her. Why doesn’t she stop screaming? She’s just hysterical, that girl. Oh she’s a cow. Look at her stare wide-eyed at everything. Ugly girl! Your feet are too big. Nobody will marry you. Where does the rage come from doctor? Why does she act so strange? What’s wrong with you?

Nadia, you aren’t good enough.

Where does the screaming come from? Who decides? Who makes the rules? I watch them – so self satisfied in their truths, but all I see is discrepancies. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen out. I’ve fallen into my body. Such a shameful thing. Why did you give it to that boy so easily? You’re just easy. Bad girl.

Why is meat so shameful. They eat it. They tear it apart with glee. Bad girl, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Your body is sacred. Hide it under layers. Keep it away from bad boys. If you will think too much, you’ll be just like those bad women. What bad women? The ones who aren’t ashamed? They put them in fancy dress and make them dance. Why do you sing so loud? Everyone will hear. They will think you’re bad. Feel guilty for everything. Your body is bad. Bad and ugly. Bad bad bad. Make it stop wanting. Make it stop dancing. Come home and hide in your room. Don’t let them see who you are. It’s your attitude. Its just wrong.

How do you clean what is dirty? This body is dirty? Flesh is dirty? Blood is dirty. You can’t pray in blood. You just cannot. Wash it off. Wash it all out. What if I don’t want to? Enraged, they glare. Headlights. Deer caught in the glare. Doesn’t it make a fine picture? You ring the bell, and the man will come and bring you in. Maybe.

When there is no wrong and no right, where will everyone go? They will fall into empty space. I make my own spaces. I celebrate my spaces. I celebrate my fall from grace. I dance with myself. I can put flesh on my bones.

Egging

Egg Talk (for breakfast)

#1 Crush

Crush: To compress with violence, out of natural shape or condition

To live in fantasy is treacherous. As I revise the myth of the artist, I give myself license (artistic license?) to violate what is real for the world outside of me. The object of my desire is revised in this violation and given shape and form. Do I violate the object? I am compressed out of natural shape and condition with violence.

#1 Crush

Where do we draw the line in the context of artistic license? Can I create a person out of an idea? And then crush myself? Where does pretend stop and real begin? Does it even matter? Keep an open mind, he says. Get real, they say. Get real. And then I open my mind and crush myself. This weight that crushes me is deliciously insinuating. But I like it, I say. And they shake their heads at me. The proverbial them. Are they watching me like I watch them?

Object: A tangible and visible entity; an entity that can cast a shadow; The goal intended to be attained (and which is believed to be attainable); The focus of cognitions or feelings

M: and i find it creepy that they figure out my schedule.”not sleeping yet? why not?” “on a lunch break? not in office?”

Objectify: Make external or objective, or give reality to

Meanwhile, I create a person all by myself. I draw and crush myself with the known and the unknown. I want to be crushed out of shape. Revise me, please. Crush me while I bend you out of shape and mould you into an object of desire.

Object

Who are you? Who are you, really?

Unwoman

“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

From A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A friend suggested A Handmaid’s Tale and I cannot help responding to it – in my own context, mostly. This book has shaken me somewhat but I wish to limit my musing to myself and not aspire to make sweeping statements or have opinions about the world of men and women. Frankly, I am as lost as the next person. I am merely a revisionist. I revise myself as I see fit (or unfit). Sometimes, I feel like I have no right to opine on anything since everything revises itself.

My “context” is also revised – by men and women alike. I usually feel like a bystander, watching people tell me who and what I am. I revise myself and I watch as others revise me. And I am aware that I am not a victim. This is just how things are, I suppose, within a social construct. I can only bitch and whine. “Take control” they say. And I nod and plod on. What else is one to do?

I know and don’t really know, how others view me. Communication is deceptive. Sometimes, I catch myself believing them. Sometimes, I feel paranoid and withdraw into myself. No harm done. However, I feel a disconnect that I cannot explain or articulate. Is it the curse of the artist? I keep revising the myth of the artist, you see. We watch and we make. We watch from afar. We watch unseen. We have a gaze – the all powerful gaze, that is borrowed from the world and then given back to the world. The audience takes over and we are gone. Maybe we are living on borrowed sight.

This disconnect is powerful. It takes away my sense of self and emotion. It hollows me. Maybe I am living on borrowed self.

“nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

In the book, the word that struck me most was Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions.

Dissedence is deceptively alluring. I am a person who dissents from established policy only to assent to another established policy. The show goes on. Only half of me is really awake. The other half is disconnected.

Condemned to Please, Please

The painter is condemned to please*. The practice of art is cruel. And therefore the artist is terribly romantic and inscrutable; obscure and deliciously mysterious. Art practice becomes even more obscure and informed by glorious muses and the void beyond reason (and so on). This is what they gave us with their history books and their slides. This is what they gave us with their documentaries and biographies. This is what they gave us at art school.

The institution of art school is a strange notion in itself. But I find myself more interested in what it has done to me – and perhaps what I’m doing for it now. I have never really stopped what they started. I am rolling along, absurdly, caught up in my own miseries and the romance of art-induced angst. Do I believe in the myth of the artist? Do I believe in the myth of art-making?

The romance of a torturous, tragic existence is very powerful. Some get so caught up in it, they never leave. Ofcourse, some disregard it completely, but it’s always lurking in the dark corners. While performing the painter, I find myself a little ridiculous. Then I get drawn into the old self and the other rhetoric. And so, I am a romantic soul again. It is a nice self-contained cycle of pleasure and pain.

I am condemned. To please. To give pleasure. Inadvertently, I am condemned to torture. If one is to believe this mythical position, then one must believe in one’s greatness in the larger scheme of things. This causes (in my opinion) a kind of psychological conflict. In this world, there seems to be no time for sentimental introspection. It defeats the purpose of practical techniques and form. In this world, there also seems to be all the time for sentimental introspection. Content must be loaded with profound meaning. In performing the painter (or the artist), one is fucked, really.

The tortured soul of this mythical artist must then be put on display. It must be curated to appear in all its glorious intensity. It must be seen, viewed and taken apart with words and more pictures. It must represent and reflect and “change” something. It must be loaded with meaning, content and comments. The intimidating walls of the gallery consume this tortured, pleasing entity. Or, it is displayed in public to be seen as some kind of effrontry or a tribute to humility. It must define space and time. It must be courageous or cowardly or merely introspective. It is given names like political, psychotic, personal, sentimental, gay, sexual, sexless, present, absent…In this crowd of words and meaning, the myth of the artist and the personal mythology of the artist become one and the same. Or maybe it’s just me. The myth of the artist wears you down something awful.

Inspiration: Arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity.

My Personal Mythology: Desire

When you’ve got paper, you can draw faces. When you’ve got leeches, you can draw blood.

Disclaimer: I started writing this post with an intention to rant about art practice and then it twisted itself into wild introspection. I still don’t know what the practice of art demands from me. I have stopped hoping I will ever know for longer than those moments when I seem to know what it wants. Then we all fall down.

* from The Cruel Practice of Art by George Bataille