In searching The Dog for posts I thought might be worth dragging back into the light, I came across this, from September, 2008, the year of the great financial meltdown, and the last fall term I would teach at St. Joe’s. A rambling, introspective reflection on what it meant for me to be an artist–four years before I’d begin to make visual art again. What caught my attention was the mention of neolithic cave art–having just read Stephen Mitchelmore’s wonderful review of Georges Bataille’s book, La Peinture Préhistorique: Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art, on his post, Book of Forgotten Dreams at This Space.. Do take the time to read this–a beautiful piece on our need to return to the place where human art began.
I had asked, why am I compelled to enclose the word “art” in quotes?
I grew up–was raised to a state of awareness by artists, living and dead–from mothers, uncles, siblings–receding all the way back to those strange stick figures who dabbed in charcoal and ocher by lamplight with marvelous precision, a catalog of animals their contemporaries were, at that very instant in time, engaged in exterminating. To claim a place in the pursuit of the arts is not a claim to a special class: no. What bothers me is the class of “art” itself.
As impossible to define as “religion.”
As impossible to define as what it means to be “human.”
I’ve become aware of something… of more than a few somethings… since beginning this blog a year ago, July. …that this is writing of another kind. I make no pretense to making art… One of the things I’ve become aware of: that what I do in the realm of art… ( a category I don’t trust even exists… ) I do in private. Turning my efforts over and over.
A short story, Godzilla’s Eye, of some 5,00 words… I have more than 500 pages of drafts that went into that throw-away effort. Nice that the Laurel Review thought to publish it… but who reads these little reviews? A few dozen people, if that.
I spent almost a year on that story. Not all my writing is so labored–but the point here is the element of privacy: privacy of composition. And my thought is… that the “art” is not in, maybe never in, the end “product.” The story that found a place on the pages of the Laurel Review.
Art, I though, does not exist–not as the “product'” I use the quotes here as defense against the common associations with the word… .”product.”
Is this what I mistrust? Is this why I place quotes around the word, “art?”
If what you see, hear, feel think…. respond to, in a work of art, is about nothing but the finished “product”… you have missed. Not a part. But everything.
The finished work is not the art–it’s the best possible suggestion the artist could come up with for what really matters. Suggestion. Not an end point, but an invitation back into the process. An invitation to an endless conversation carrying us forward.
So I re-write my posts. Edit on line. What matters… is process. And in process…we are all participants.
And yet I recoil… I post and delete…
To act with others, before others, unleashes unpredictable reactions.
To do that… to be able to do that… is the very definition of Trust–in ones self. The thing no artist can be without.
Compose in public.
I’ve been doing this with my posts for months…then waking in a panic and deleting them.
So what… if what matters is PROCESS.
We need a new form of critique.
Nothing new here. A return to engagement. Real encounter… where what matters is the process, the journey…
Encounter… not to own, but to be infused in the aura of impossible distance. Discovering ourselves in what we have made– more truly and more strange.