NOW I HAVE TURNED 37 YEARS OLD. I HAVE BEEN MAKING ART NOW FOR 8½ YEARS. IT IS PROBABLY HIGH TIME I DECIDED ONCE AND FOR ALL WHAT IT IS THAT I AM DOING, AND WHAT EXACTLY I AM TRYING TO ACHIEVE BY DOING IT.
WHAT I LIKE ABOVE ALL, WHAT MOST RELIABLY SENDS ME INTO ECSTASIES OF DELIGHT, IS OLD MASTER PAINTING. THAT HAS ALL BEEN DONE OF COURSE, LONG SINCE. (AND I DO NOT POSSESS ANYTHING LIKE THE REQUISITE SKILLS THAT I COULD EVER HAVE DONE ANYTHING IN THAT LINE ANYWAY.) SO I NEED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. I SHALL DO WHATEVER IT IS POSSIBLE TO DO INSTEAD, IN THAT ABSENCE OF MY BEING ABLE TO MAKE 16TH OR 17TH CENTURY PAINTINGS, AND WE'LL SEE WHAT THAT RESULTS IN (HOPEFULLY, ECSTASIES OF DELIGHT AND PARADISE ON EARTH). FINE, THAT IS MY PROJECT, THAT'S CLEAR.
NOW THE SECOND, FAR TRICKIER QUESTION, WHAT DO I HOPE TO ACHIEVE BY THIS?
AS I SAY, I HAVE BEEN WORKING FOR 8½ YEARS. BY ALMOST ANY CRITERIA OF SUCCESS THAT YOU MIGHT CARE TO APPLY, I HAVEN'T ACHEIVED A LOT. INDEED, I SHOULD PROBABLY BE ASKING MYSELF, DO I REALLY OUGHT TO CONTINUE WITH IT?
IF WE ARE TO LOOK AT THINGS IN THE MOST OPTIMISTIC LIGHT, WE CAN JUST ABOUT SAY THAT THE LEVELS OF PRAISE AND ENCOURAGEMENT THAT I HAVE GARNERED FOR MY WORK SO FAR ARE JUST ABOUT SUFFICIENT TO WARRANT MY PERSISTING WITH IT RATHER THAN GIVING UP ALTOGETHER. BUT UNDOUBTEDLY WE ARE DEALING HERE WITH VERY FINE MARGINS.
ALSO, IT DOES SEEM TO BE THE CASE THAT I GROW DEPRESSED IF I AM NOT WORKING ON SOMETHING (I'M NOT COMPELLED TO BE WORKING EVERY SINGLE DAY, BUT CERTAINLY IF I'M UNPRODUCTIVE FOR TOO LONG THEN I START TO GET DOWN). THAT WOULD SUGGEST PERHAPS THAT I OUGHT TO CARRY ON.
SO I'LL CARRY ON, BUT THE QUESTION REMAINS, WHAT AM I HOPING TO ACHEIVE BY IT?
AS I SAY, I AM 37 NOW. A LOT OF VERY GOOD ARTISTS DIED AT 37, THEIR LIFE'S WORK COMPLETE: VAN GOGH, WATTEAU, RAPHAEL... AND MANY DIED STILL YOUNGER: EGON SCHIELE, ADRIAEN BROUWER, DEAR CAREL FABRITIUS, WONDERFUL WONDERFUL JOHANN LISS... OF COURSE THAT DOESN'T REALLY MEAN ANYTHING – ONE MAY ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS AT ANY AGE, AT 15 OR AT 95... (* I learned that lesson some years ago when the singer Thanksgiving, with at that point already five or six albums under his belt and yet still a heavily acned teenager, played a gig in my house, borrowed my £29 Argos guitar, and was mind-blowing.) NONETHELESS, IT DOES PUT IT INTO PERSPECTIVE, AT 37, JUST HOW MUCH I HAVEN'T ACHEIVED.
I'M NEVER QUITE SURE HOW GOOD AN ARTIST I AM. NOT PERHAPS AN OUTSTANDINGLY GOOD ONE. BUT I THINK I AM ESSENTIALLY GOOD. I AM CERTAINLY NOT ONE OF THE GREATS, AND I AM FAIRLY CERTAIN THAT I NEVER WILL BE. WHAT REALLY INTRIGUES ME IS WHY THIS DOES NOT BOTHER ME.
IN TRUTH, EVERY GOOD THING FEELS LIKE A BONUS TO ME. TO THE EXTENT THAT MY BEING BORN ONTO THIS PLANET AT ALL WAS THE RESULT OF THE MOST OUTSIDE OF CHANCES WITH REGARD TO THE RIGHT COMING TOGETHER OF GENES AND/OR ALIGNMENT OF STARS AND PLANETS AND/OR WHATEVER ELSE IT TAKES TO CAUSE ONE UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL TO COME INTO BEING RATHER THAN REMAINING FOREVER AS ONE OF AN INFINITE NUMBER OF HYPOTHETICAL POSSIBLE PERSONS THAT NEVER MADE IT INTO EXISTENCE, THEN CERTAINLY EVERY DAY SPENT IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING IS VERY MUCH A BONUS. AND EVERY GOOD THING THAT HAPPENS TO ME HERE IS AN EXTRA BONUS, AND EVERY GOOD ACTION THAT I MAKE IS AN EXTRA BONUS ALSO, AND EVERY GOOD PIECE OF ART THAT I MAKE IS AS WELL.
ACCORDING TO SUCH A WORLDVIEW (WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR THE GREAT LAZINESS THAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE OF THE CHIEF COMPONENTS OF MY CHARACTER), IF I MAKE JUST ONE GREAT ARTWORK, THEN I'LL HAVE DONE PRETTY WELL. AND I PROBABLY ALREADY HAVE MADE ONE GREAT WORK, MAYBE EVEN ONE OR TWO.
WHILE IT MIGHT BE NICE FOR ME PERSONALLY TO MAKE MORE AND GREATER WORKS, AND WHILE THAT MIGHT BE NICE TOO FOR THE PEOPLE WHO MIGHT SEE AND ENJOY THEM (ALTHOUGH CERTAINLY NOTHING I HAVE SO FAR DONE HAS EVER REACHED A PARTICULARLY WIDE PUBLIC), IT IS NOT REALLY NECESSARY THAT I DO SO. IT IS NOT BY ANY MEANS AN URGENT REQUIREMENT.
WHEN I WAS A SMALL CHILD, I ALWAYS USED TO THINK THAT I WOULD LIVE TO ABOUT 100. CERTAINLY 90, PROBABLY 100. WHAT I HADN'T BEEN ABLE TO APPRECIATE BACK THEN HOWEVER WAS JUST HOW LONG THAT WOULD TAKE. I THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE REACHED 100 BY NOW. YET HERE I AM, STILL ALIVE, AND STILL ONLY 37! AND BECAUSE I HAD BEEN EXPECTING THAT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ALL OVER BY ABOUT NOW, EVERY ADDITIONAL DAY SEEMS LIKE EVEN MORE OF A BONUS. IT IS FREE TIME, AND AS SUCH, IT IS NOT TERRIBLY IMPORTANT HOW I USE IT.
FURTHERMORE, AT 37 I AM ABSOLUTELY DECIDED AND RESOLUTE THAT I AM NEVER HAVING KIDS. THIS DECISION LEAVES ME FEELING MASSIVELY FREE, FREE FROM INUMERABLE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT WOULD NOT SIT WELL WITH ME AT ALL. (*Just how firm has become my resolution not to have children, was brought powerfully home to me by a dream I had a couple of months ago. I dreamed that I had got somebody pregnant, and I was walking around trying to figure out what I should do. It seemed to me that there were three alternatives. Ideally, I would be able to persuade the mother-to-be to terminate the pregnancy. Failing that, we could perhaps have the child adopted. But in the last resort, if the girl in my dream insisted on keeping the baby, then it seemed to me that the best thing for me to do would be to kill myself. I was shocked to find myself coming to such a conclusion, but it really did seem to me when the situation was so vividly presented to me in that dream, that the idea of having to raise a child was just about the worst thing I was capable of imagining. And when I woke up and was able to assure myself that it really had been only a dream, that was the best piece of news I have had all year.) ANYWAY, OF ALL THE MULTITUDINOUS RESPONSIBILITIES THAT I ABSOLVE MYSELF OF BY NOT HAVING CHILDREN, NOT LEAST IS THAT I AM RELIEVED OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEAVING BEHIND ANY KIND OF LEGACY FOR MY DESCENDENTS. I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE THEM PROUD OF ME BY BEING A SUFFICIENTLY GREAT OR SUCCESSFUL ARTIST. IN TERMS OF HEREDITY, I AM A DEAD END, AND I CAN FILL THAT CUL-DE-SAC WITH REALLY ANYTHING.
SO MY DESCENDENTS DO NOT REQUIRE ME TO MAKE GREAT ARTWORKS, BUT MOREOVER THE WORLD AS A WHOLE DOES NOT REQUIRE ME TO EITHER. THERE ARE ALREADY A SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF ARTWORKS IN THE WORLD. THE MUSEUMS HAVE ALREADY BEEN FILLED. (JUST LOOK AT WHAT THE NATIONAL GALLERY IN LONDON, OR BERLIN'S GEMÄLDEGALERIE KEEP IN THEIR BASEMENTS, WITHOUT ROOM TO DISPLAY THEM IN THEIR GALLERIES, AND ASK IF WE NEED ANY MORE.) THE WORLD DOES NOT REQUIRE MY WORKS. IT PROBABLY DOESN'T REQUIRE ANYBODY'S.
IF NOBODY EVER MADE ANOTHER PAINTING, OR INDEED WROTE ANOTHER BOOK, OR COMPOSED ANOTHER PIECE OF MUSIC, OR MADE ANOTHER FILM, THERE WOULD STILL BE ENOUGH PAINTINGS FOR US TO LOOK AT, ENOUGH BOOKS FOR US TO READ, ENOUGH MUSIC FOR US TO LISTEN TO, AND ENOUGH FILMS FOR US TO WATCH OUR WHOLE LIVES THROUGH. I'M SURE IT WOULD BE UNHEALTHY FOR US TO STOP CREATING, AND UNHEALTHY FOR US NOT TO HAVE ARTISTS, COMPOSERS, AUTHORS AND AUTEURS AND SO ON LIVING AMONGST US, BUT WE DON'T ACTUALLY NEED THE END PRODUCTS.
WE COULD CEASE ALL PRODUCTION OF HIGH ART THIS VERY MINUTE AND JUST DO SUNDAY PAINTING AND THAT WOULD PROBABLY BE ABSOLUTELY FINE. POSSIBLY.
ART HAS BECOME VERY STRANGE NOW, AND HARD TO UNDERSTAND OR JUDGE. SOME OF IT I LIKE, A LOT OF IT I DISLIKE, A GREAT DEAL OF IT I AM UNSURE ABOUT, AND THE VAST MAJORITY OF IT I WILL NEVER EVEN SEE AS THERE IS SIMPLY TOO MUCH OF IT. I OFTEN WONDER IF CONTEMPORARY ART WILL BE AT ALL COMPREHENSIBLE OR VALUABLE TO PEOPLE A FEW HUNDRED YEARS HENCE, MY OWN STUFF INCLUDED. (*I think I have made at least one piece that will make sense to future generations, and I think it might be robust enough to withstand being buried in the ground for a few centuries before being dug up and rediscovered.)
BUT EVEN IF THE ART OF TODAY PROVED EVENTUALLY TO BE QUITE WORTHLESS, IT REALLY WOULD NOT MATTER BECAUSE THE PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE WOULD STILL HAVE PLENTY OF FINE OLD PICTURES TO LOOK AT.
IT IS OF LITTLE OR NO IMPORTANCE WHETHER I EVER REALLY MAKE IT AS AN ARTIST OR NOT. EVEN IF I HAD NEVER MADE A PIECE OF ART IN MY LIFE, THE WORLD WOULD STILL HAVE REMBRANDT, AND GOYA, AND POUSSIN, AND MALEVICH, AND JAN VAN EYCK, AND HIERONYMUS BOSCH...
THE FACT REMAINS HOWEVER THAT I DO CONTINUE TO MAKE MY WORK, AND EVEN THOUGH THE WORLD PERHAPS DOES NOT NEED IT, I SUPPOSE THAT A PLACE PROBABLY OUGHT TO BE FOUND FOR IT. I'M NOT REALLY SURE WHERE IT FITS IN.
IT IS HARD FOR ME TO IMAGINE MY EVER HAVING MUCH OF AN ART CAREER VIA THE STANDARD CHANNELS. KNOWING WHAT I'M LIKE, I REALISE THAT I AM NEVER REALISTICALLY GOING TO GET AROUND TO DOING ALL OF THE NETWORKING AND SELF-PROMOTION THAT MIGHT FACILITATE MY GETTING AHEAD IN THE ART WORLD. I NEVER EVEN GET AROUND TO FILLING OUT THE APPLICATIONS THAT MIGHT WIN ME RESIDENCIES AND GRANTS. IT SEEMS STRANGE TO ME HOW LITTLE I TRY, BUT I JUST STAND BY AND WATCH MYSELF BEING THIS WAY, AND TAKE A KIND OF BEMUSED INTEREST IN IT, AS A CURIOUS FACT.
SOMETIMES I THINK THAT THE BEST CHANCE FOR MY WORK TO GAIN WIDE ACCEPTANCE AND RECOGNITION WOULD BE FOR ME TO JUST TOIL AWAY IN OBSCURITY FOR MANY YEARS BEFORE EVENTUALLY GETTING PICKED UP AS AN OUTSIDER ARTIST. BUT MAYBE I AM TOO AWARE OF HOW THE ART WORLD WORKS TO QUALIFY AS BEING OUTSIDE OF IT? (*A funny thing though, I read earlier this year a book on Henry Darger which included a photograph of the rented room in which he lived and worked for 42 years of his life, and gave measurements, and almost to the inch it was just the same size as my own current accommodation, and even the door and windows were in the same places. Actually the biggest appreciable difference between Henry Darger's circumstances and my own is that his rents were substantially cheaper than mine.) IN TRUTH, BETWEEN OFFICIAL CULTURE AND OUTSIDERDOM, I PROBABLY FALL SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN.
MAYBE I SHOULD JUST BE A MAIL ARTIST. I AM GOOD AT INTIMACY, AND I DON'T LIKE TO TAKE UP TOO MUCH OF ANYONE'S SPACE. BUT THE PRICE OF POSTAGE STAMPS THESE DAYS IS SO TERRIBLY HIGH...
THE WAY MY WORK IS GOING HOWEVER, I OUGHT PROBABLY TO MAKE MORE LARGE SCALE PIECES. TEMPORARY ONES, ANYWAY. INTIMATE, TEMPORARY, AND BIG.
I CAN NEVER REALLY WORK OUT WHETHER I AM AMBITIOUS OR NOT. BUT I'LL KEEP WORKING, AND MAYBE EVEN WORK A LITTLE HARDER, OF COURSE I WILL. AND MAYBE I'LL EVEN TRY TO PROMOTE MY WORK A LITTLE BIT MORE...
THIS IS AN APPALING MANIFESTO, REALLY HORRENDOUS, BUT I'M SUPPOSING THAT FROM OUT OF SUCH A NADIR, ONE STARTS TO MOVE UPWARDS, YES?
I'LL GO AHEAD AND PRINT IT!
IT MIGHT WELL BE SAID THAT, IN THIS MANIFESTO OF MINE, I HAVE ADVANCED A LOT OF ARGUMENTS THAT ARE TERRIBLY CONVENIENT AS REGARDS JUSTIFYING WHAT WOULD PROBABLY ACCORDING TO MOST YARDSTICKS HAVE TO BE CALLED THE RELATIVE FAILURE SO FAR OF MY 8½ YEARS' WORK AS AN ARTIST, AND THAT IF I WOULD JUST GET ON AND MAKE A SUCCESS OF MYSELF THEN I WOULDN'T NEED TO PROPOSE SUCH IDEAS. THERE IS PROBABLY SOME TRUTH IN THIS. BUT THERE IS PROBABLY ALSO SOME TRUTH IN THE MANIFESTO, THAT WOULD REMAIN TRUE EVEN IF I WERE TO BECOME MORE SUCCESSFUL.
HOW TO FINISH? I HAVE WRITTEN ALL OF THIS MORE OR LESS STRAIGHT OUT IN THE ORDER IN WHICH IT HAS OCCURRED TO ME, AND I'M SURE I'VE USED UP ALL MY BEST LINES WAY UP THE PAGE. SOME LINES OF DIALOGUE THEN, FROM MY FAVOURITE EVER FILM, 'SEDMIKRÁSKY' ('DAISIES') BY VĚRA CHYTILOVÁ, FROM RIGHT AT THE END OF THE FILM, THE FINAL LINES OF DIALOGUE SPOKEN BY THE TWO MARIES JUST BEFORE THE CHANDELIER FALLS ON THEM:
- WE'RE REALLY HAPPY!
- BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER!