Idiot’s Checklist For Exhibiting Your Work When You’ve Never Done It Before – by A.N Idiot

It’s not quite true that I’ve never done it before but, compared with a table in a village hall and a tent in a garden, actual wall space in an actual gallery room was not only a step up but also came as something of a culture shock.

There’s a big difference between unstable carboard easels at child grab height or chasing after art work knocked off its stand by a heaving tent flap, and fresh white walls with barely visible hanging devices you’ve no idea how to make use of. Who knew fishing line played such a part? Or sticky things that aren’t sticky and hold paintings flat against the wall? Those are Command (not Commando – different thing altogether!) strips. And labelling is an art form on its own.

So it was that I had to leave my paintings propped up against the skirting board in the gallery because, despite thinking I had them prepared to hang anywhere, the anywhere in my head depended on hooks to accommodate the loops on the boards or the wooden stretch frames of my canvases. The other two artists, probably struck by a combination of horror and sympathy, got them on the walls for me, and so began the search for advice about a process I had never had cause to know anything about before.

The videos below give an indication of the kinds of climbing, hammering, measuring, limbering, lifting, manipulating, and in one instance interior decorating, skills artists seem to need to participate in the simple act of showing their work. It’s quite physical.

I’m not in the first flush of youth and, while I have no registrable disability, I do have some limitations that generally fly under the radar until challenged by unusual circumstances such as ladders, holding large pieces of unsupported work steady while on top of a ladder, being able to see the invisible fishing line while not losing my balance, or negotiating stairs with big things in glass frames. That’s the short list and I began to wonder how some of my colleagues on the OCA art degrees manage; people whose disabilities qualify them for aids and supports but nevertheless hamper their physical range and are much more than a perfect storm of inconveniences. Is it essential to be physically fit, able-bodied, youthfully agile to be a practising artist? It kinda looks that way.

There’s a lot of advice in these videos, and I know I would have found them extremely helpful had I been as physically able as the presenters. But I’m a bit short, a tad balance impaired, I need two pairs of glasses to get from measuring a wall to making a dot to lining that dot up with another dot. Then I need another hand to balance a spirit level on something I needed a third arm to grab. I have a bit of arthritis, an injury which is invisible and tolerable as long as I don’t do a lot of bending, standing still, or sitting in unsuitable seating; and I could probably do with a roadie to get to some venues with my stuff.

So do I give up and just accumulate art work in the loft for that time when family inevitably has the task of emptying it? Do I aim for digital only products? Or do I pull on my big girl inventive pants and find a way round this?

For now I’m going with the Big Girl Pants.

The solution seems to be preparation, scouting the territory and making notes about the set-up. What’s there and what isn’t; what sizes are their usual displays; how do you want yours to appear; will you need a roadie to help with transport and hanging? This is the conclusion I’m coming to and obviously there’s a cost implication. But before I get all uppity about that I have to remind myself that I already pay now for several services that I wouldn’t have needed to purchase before, and this one differs significantly in that I stand to gain monetarily from an exhibition.

So what do I need?

  • Ideally a packer who might be the same person as the lifter, shifter, and hanger.
  • A roadie to collect, load, transport, unload, and deliver to the venue, then reverse the process when the exhibition closes. That’s two chunks of time.
  • A checklist so let’s start here:
    • Speak to the organiser of, for instance, an art trail to find out what’s expected generally.
    • Speak to the owner of the venue, which might be a shop/gallery, a gallery/shop, or an actual gallery if you finally broke through the ceramic ceiling. If you’re in a tent, be ready to chase after escaping art work as adverse weather conditions can interfere with the stability of any display. Also you might find you’re expected to help put up and then dismantle the tent.
    • Visit the venue and ask about space, expectations (how many exhibitors, what size paintings for instance), and what hanging systems are already in place. Will you need to fix your own and if so, what constraints are there? And are there some items that can’t be moved? If this isn’t a permanent exhibition space, it will probably be used for something else the rest of the year.
    • Agree your stewarding duties.
    • Agree the venue’s commission. Industry standard is 40%.
    • Ask how sales are managed. Do they go through the venue’s own books or do you need to supply your bank or PayPal details?
    • Agree dates if those aren’t set by an external body (such as the art trail organiser).
    • Agree delivery and hanging date and times.
    • Agree take-down date and times.
    • Hire roadie and agree hours plus rate per hour. You can offset this, along with any other costs, against tax so don’t be mean.
    • Make a contract for the roadie and ensure you both sign it. Include a cancellation clause that covers fees due to them if you cancel, especially at short notice. Have a backup plan in case you need to replace them quickly or manage alone.
  • When you’re stewarding, remember you’re the face of that exhibition, so if you’re sharing the space with other artists, ask them about their work so you can talk about it to people. And do this before you tell them about yours because that’s just courteous.
    • Find out about ventilation. This pandemic won’t last forever but while it’s here, be safe.
    • Find out about refreshments. Sometimes the venue owner will provide tea/coffee/water but probably not food, although once my host emerged from her kitchen with a full-on salad followed by home-made scones with cream and jam.
    • Take any essential refreshments you’ll need. Fluids will be important (so find out about the loos as well!), and you may need something light to top up your energy levels or blood sugar. Remember stewarding is physical and mental work, draining if you’re not used to it, and that will cause your energy levels to plummet. Best to keep it to something you can quickly set aside so that you’re not inconveniencing a visitor. Bananas and snack bars are a gift.
    • Try to tell the story of the painting a visitor is looking at. Also know when to shut up!
    • Remember questions visitors had about works by the other artists then ask them at handover or by other means so you have that story to hand next time.
    • Remember also that you are representing yourself even – maybe especially – when you’re talking about someone else’s work. People may not buy your paintings but they will remember you and they’ll probably look out for you next time.
  • Populate Instagram, twitter, and Facebook with your work. QR codes next to your works can link to added extras like blog posts showing how it was made, a video of you talking about it, quick vids of animations, you tik tokking it, AR (augmented reality) ‘easter eggs’. If there’s no wifi and the phone signal is poor, do that where those facilities are available and make sure the labels, your business cards or flyers, have those links too.

This list is not exhaustive; in fact much of it is post hoc, things I should have done this time but hadn’t thought about. So please print it, add to it – for yourself, in the comments, or both – modify it according to your own circumstances and what you’ve learned from each exhibition, and pass it on to the next novice exhibitor you meet along the way.

Post script.

My costs at their most basic for this exhibition are £170.00. This includes the participation fee of £40.00; £30.00 for the roadie to get my work down stairs and into my car; and £100.00 for my time on-site, calculated at £10.00 per hour which is just above the National Living Wage for everywhere but London. It doesn’t include preparation of, for instance, labels, the cost of flyers and business cards (I can use those elsewhere), the pre-exhibition meeting with the other two artists and discussions with the owner of the gallery, or my time getting the work to the venue.

That Art/Money/Patronage thing

This is from The Conversation 19/07/2021, republished with permission, and it’s here to come back to each time I need to get my head around the NFT (non-fungible token) business. Artists have to eat. They have to pay bills. Giving work away for ‘exposure’ as so many of us have done or are doing is a devaluing of the creative product and makes it harder for those whose livelihood depends on sales.

At some level though, this seems to breach a barrier of seemliness. Patronage smacks of obedience; conformity to the wishes of a paying patron; being kept as a pet. But it gets people gallery space, interviews, documentaries, an income.

And now there’s this. I’m still pondering this.

Damien Hirst’s ‘The Currency’: what we’ll discover when this NFT art project is over

Hirst Lord of the Treasury. Marusya Chaika

Paul Dylan-Ennis, University College Dublin

English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message.

The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains.

The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed.

So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?

What is money?

Hirst has essentially created a variety of money, on the rationale that money is primarily a social phenomenon built around faith and trust. In doing so, he touches on an interesting paradox. “Non-fungible” means that a token is a once-off. This is to contrast it with fungible items like dollars, which are all the same and can be traded like-for-like – the same way as many cryptocurrencies such as ether or dogecoin. Fungibility is one of the essential properties of any currency according to traditional economics.

But is it what it seems? By creating 10,000 individual units that mimic real currencies, Hirst is highlighting with the unique markings of each work that even fungible currencies have some non-fungible properties – for example, most currencies will have different serial numbers and issue dates on each note. This helps to underline that money is a concept that becomes ever harder to pin down when you look at it more closely.

The work further contests our sense of what money is by raising questions about another of its essential properties – that of a medium of exchange. A work by a famous artist would rarely be thought of as a medium of exchange. Instead, it would normally be treated as a scarce store of value, like gold.

Hirst is asking if it really has to be this way. By producing 10,000 works in the style of a currency, he is clearly having fun by showing how money is malleable and can shapeshift depending on the context.

What is art?

What matters most, physical or digital art? Hirst is not the first to ask this question in the context of NFTs. A few months ago, a company called Injective Protocol bought a 2006 work by Banksy called Morons, which satirises an art auction, for US$95,000. It then burned the piece live on Twitter so that only a digital version survived on an NFT. It then sold the NFT for US$380,000.

I have previously discussed how the people at Injective had cleverly decided to play on our preference for the physical over the digital. By destroying the physical version and then claiming the NFT signature would stand in for the artwork, it drew attention to the benefit that an NFT cannot be destroyed by vandals such as themselves. https://www.youtube.com/embed/C4wm-p_VFh0?wmode=transparent&start=0

At a time when there had been an explosion in demand for NFT art and other collectibles, with some trading hands for millions of pounds, this was a comment on the persistent question concerning whether NFTs really imply ownership. For many, the puzzle is why someone would feel that owning a digital version rather than an “actual” artwork constitutes ownership at all.

Clearly, Hirst gets it. He is approaching the question of ownership by distilling it down to its purest economic and commercial form – literally the artwork as money. When people express puzzlement at NFTs, really what they mean is how can you spend money on something so valueless? The idea that digital ownership is equivalent to physical ownership is still unacceptable to the majority of people.

What Hirst is highlighting is how the “puzzle” is easily solved by recognising that there are two communities interested in his artwork: those who value his traditional physical pieces and those who value his NFT pieces. He does this, I think, to show how value never makes sense when it is removed from the cultural community that has ascribed that value to it. Each community is a mystery to the other. Zoom out, however, and they are closer than they imagine, ultimately bonding as fans of Hirst.

For most people, the puzzle is still the NFT community. This culture is populated by passionate blockchain enthusiasts and crypto-natives, young people who grew up with cryptocurrencies. For them, a blockchain wallet stores their value. This can mean fungible currencies like bitcoin or ether, but also, more and more, their art collection. These collections represent their tastes and interests and tell us a little about who they are, and what they value.

A particularly clear-cut example of this would be someone who, after the year has passed, decides to claim the NFT of Hirst’s work and reject the physical version. What better move to signal commitment to a blockchain future? When the year is up and we see how many people chose to keep the NFT, it might even give an interesting indication of to what extent this new digital generation is becoming the dominant one.

Paul Dylan-Ennis, Lecturer/Assistant Professor in Management Information Systems, University College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“Art is everything you don’t have to do” – Brian Eno

Brian Eno’s lecture to the AA School of Architecture takes on the problem of how to talk about, to write about, to classify and describe art. Or that was the plan. The lecture starts well with the idea that the arts – all of them – are everything you don’t have to do as illustrated by screwdrivers. The business end is a fixed design, functional and with no room for manoeuvre, but the handle – that can be plain, striped, blue, red, yellow, pink, fat, thin, shaped, pared down. The business end is what you have to do, the handle is what you don’t have to do.

Eno compares the lack of a taxonomy for the arts to the way living things were classified before Darwin. Cynically, but probably not far from the truth, he illustrated this again with recognisable categories – men, white men actually, would be at the top (and there was always a top), with horses next (or maybe he said dogs), and women further down. It was an intellectual top-is-superior triangle with a few specified entities at the top and the masses at the bottom.

And so it is with art.

Darwin’s constructions of the origin of species, however, scrambled this and showed how everything was interrelated, there was no top dog (except with other dogs), and the superiority of humans was questionable when it came to competing with, say, a polar bear on equal terms. Darwin didn’t actually say that of course, I did. He also didn’t follow his own theory by giving women the same intellectual credentials as men*. That took a while longer.

But back to art. Eno’s thesis here is that because there is no classificatory taxonomy whereby appreciation of a piece of work is enhanced by understanding how it got there; the historical context it came from, what it was reacting to, the political and social environment that prompted it; art remains a top-is-superior triangular structure where a few people (men again, generally) decide what’s good and everyone else follows along. He argues that this is problematic for assessing or even agreeing relative value even within a discipline such as painting never mind across the whole spectrum of the arts (those things we don’t have to do but that we somehow can’t help doing). We remember, don’t we, that there used to be Film Snobbery whereby any actor appearing on TV was regarded as lesser than those in top dollar films, despite often being seen by more people. This has almost turned on its head now and with the expansion of the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, the acting community is looking at TV as having equal status to film. This opens up the need to consider all forms of art using language appropriate to its genre and to abandon the ‘high art’ framework that privileges particular forms above all others – the White Men at the Top of the Triangle.

Unfortunately, rather than developing this theme and leading his audience through questions and arguments towards a conclusion, however incomplete (and why should it be, this is complex stuff?), Eno disappears off down interesting but distracting rabbit holes that add nothing to his thesis, eventually running out of time and finishing so lamely his audience has to be prompted to clap. Were he staff, this would be a 2* performance but, and here’s another issue, he may not be rated on delivery but on the fact that he is Brian Eno and everyone there is feeling privileged to be breathing the same air (pre-COVID, obviously). The Emperor was, on this occasion, and to my mind, stark naked.

And that’s how fame works, and isn’t it a kind of gentle corruption that perverts the course of objective evaluative justice and so influences everything we call culture?

Here’s the video; it has some interesting ideas that have value in their own right but take a look too at his Peel lecture (link further down).

Eno can do so much better; this is his Peel Lecture from 2015, scroll down for the audio: http://www.openculture.com/2015/12/brian-enos-peel-lecture-on-art.html. It deals with the same themes, it predates the AA School of Architecture lecture, and it’s excellent. There’s a point at about 40 mins though where he projects a future we were on the verge of losing before it even began.

*In his book, The Descent of Man, [Darwin] say[s] that men attain “a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_and_wome

The meaning of art — Conboyhillpaintingmedia

After a lifetime in health care with varying degrees of responsibility, it was a joy to retire and do something less critical. Art would be about footling around with paint and getting charcoal on your nose, and nobody would die if I forgot who Matisse was. I was wrong on all counts except, obviously, the […]

The meaning of art — Conboyhillpaintingmedia

This is a re-post from one of my OCA blogs sparked by a series of exercises that seemed, in the current context which, in all fairness, the author of the course unit could not have anticipated, empty, trivial, self indulgent, and belonging to another era. Are people really interested in an artist’s socks painted in coffee? Is it reasonable to use food stuffs as painting media? What actual value does making twenty postcard sized paintings of ‘found’ images have? Or twenty self portraits using a twig? These are exercises, not works for a market or for any purpose other than fulfilling course requirements, but should not meaning or communication be part of the thinking for students, even at this stage? I think so.

Art, meaning, and communication

This is a reblog (a copy actually as you’re only allowed one reblog and I’d already parked this on my other arty blog). It’s the result of some mental scratching around, trying to understand the incomprehensible in art and literature. Buckle up.

I’ve been having a think about art and creative output generally, and two things strike me, the first being that I like all sorts of things and I appreciate others even if I don’t like them. The difference? The first will likely be attractive in some way – a well written, zipping along story or an immediately engaging painting with striking imagery – but it might not be ‘good’. Simply put, it’s not ‘literary’ or ‘cutting edge’; it won’t rate any critical acclaim or win the Booker or the Turner Prize. But it might, depending on who promotes it, whose name is on it, and who’s up for buying into it. The second comprises that group of written or visual works I have to struggle to make sense of and, while I may find I appreciate them for the skill and tangible artistry, I may not like them much. The ones I do like tend to be those with a message I can derive from them. Banksy’s dystopian theme park, while not a thing I’d take home for my kitchen, were that at all feasible, had a clear message about the state of our country, the world, and our busted politics. Also I’m attracted to grunge. Other kinds of critically acclaimed work, Marina Abramovic I’m looking at you, leave me wondering what I’m supposed to take away from them.

For a good few decades, I’ve worked with adults with learning (intellectual) disabilities and if I learned anything at all from that, it’s this: it doesn’t matter how valuable or important your message, if the recipient doesn’t understand it, doesn’t get it, then you haven’t done your job. If art is a communication of some sort – and if it isn’t, then what is it? – then that communication has to be effective or it’s pointless. But so often, in both art and literature, we’re left as consumers to figure it out for ourselves. For the privileged few, and I’m one or I wouldn’t be here, there are interviews and documentaries, podcasts and video blogs about and with the creative and their work. We gain insight into the motivations that underpinned a piece of work or their body of work, and we hear from them directly the emotions that drove them. No resorting to cod psychology and third-hand speculative analysis; horse’s mouth.

But that’s a tiny percentage even of the work’s actual audience so what about everyone else? Are they meant to be excluded from this dialogue or were they simply not factored in? When I think of my clients struggling to read the TV listings but desperate to see Dr Who or Eastenders, knowing that these forms of art and entertainment mattered to them too, I feel bad about having written obscurely tangled tales in the past. Literary fiction requires you to work but if you have to work too hard, how can it possibly achieve what the writer hopes for it? Similarly, art work where ‘I know what I like’ too often sits alongside ‘my five year old could have done that’ and seems to mean ‘I don’t understand it, therefore it’s rubbish’. We lost those people because they hadn’t seen a documentary or heard us talk about how that work came about, and there was no hint of a meaning nearby to help them reframe their opinion.

I’m at the beginning of this course so I recognise the possible grandiosity of my next statement which is that, as a story-teller, I want to make art that says something, that has meaning and a message. I want to do that better than I did with many of my short stories because, what was that estimate for how long people look at a piece of art before moving on – 10 seconds? I have to give it a leg up, some hints as to what’s going on, enough so that even someone with literacy difficulties can get something out of it or why bother at all?

I’ve made myself a chart. A way of analysing my own work and also figuring out how to write short bios for pieces that need a bit of help. I still like pretty much as I like a ripping yarn with no literary credentials to speak of, but meaningful? Well, if that’s the intention and it’s not accessible then I’ve failed.

meaning-in-art-flow-chart

 

Left brain, right brain, or something else?

The old left brain/right brain chestnut keeps on popping up, especially in reference to creativity. Dead but it won’t lie down. It comes from some very old studies on people with severe epilepsy whose brain hemispheres were surgically separated to prevent seizures swamping the whole cortex, plus the observation that motor functions are generally right side dominant (governed by the left motor cortex), and that language tends to be located in the left temporal lobe. Early studies seemed to support a view that the left brain is logical, ordered, and language related while the right is more spatial and image-led. But that was without knowledge of what the rest of the brain is doing (and let’s scotch that ‘only use 10% of it’ myth – we use the lot) and this is something neuroscience is much clearer about now.

I’m going to point you to a blog post of mine from 2013 where you’ll find a link to an article by Christian Jarrett who knows his stuff and doesn’t wrap it up in blather. I’ll be here when you get back.

***

IMG_2120

So – if not left/right, then what? Conscious/unconscious, that’s what. There’s increasing evidence from detailed studies, including people with neurological disorders, that the key area involved in logic and sequencing is the frontal part of the brain, that bit behind your eyebrows. It’s the most recent development, it helps us plan and order things, catalogue, inhibit inappropriate behaviours, enable socialised behaviours, and it’ll be no surprise to any parent to find adolescents have to go through most of their young lives before it kicks in. While a lot of what it does is not immediately obvious to us while it’s doing it, it’s what you might call close to the surface whereas a great deal of our memories and their associated emotions are neurologically buried down in the subcortical parts of the brain and we’re less aware of their rumblings.

But that unconscious is working away the whole time. Think of that sentence and how you get to the end of it with all the right sorts of words in the right sort of order without having to plan it out beforehand. How does that happen? The answer seems to be a combination of a kind of superficial conveyor belt the travelling across a massive bubbling pond of mystery. It’s the mind-to-mouth process that carries words without dropping them, and what puts them there is the back-end staff in the pond below. The complexity of the brain is such that it seems capable of predicting what’s required without any conscious intervention and throws relevant or best-guess words up onto the conveyor belt. Sometimes it gets the wrong one and sometimes it can’t find one at all. But you know what? It quite often slings that word up into your conscious mind when you’re doing something totally banal, like washing up.

And therein lies the possible mechanism of creativity. Letting the unconscious loose to throw up more and different ideas from its bubbling subterranean tank by widening the gateway. If you think of that gateway as being like a piece of gauze, it’s obvious that the narrower the web and the more tightly patterned it is, the fewer items will get through and the less unique these will be. But if you can open that gauze up, make the gaps bigger and less structured, then more, bigger, and less ordinary ideas will fly out into consciousness.

Of course that depends on having something in there in the first place so input is important – reading, looking, observing, being, hearing, eating, drinking, finding novelty and poking around in it – that’s the all-you-can-eat buffet of creativity. It forces the brain to make more and novel connections from one part of itself to another, and the more of these there are, the less ordinary the solutions it will throw up.

That’s important because young brains have large numbers of quite random connections and these are gradually pruned out to focus on the ones most relevant to daily functioning, which means as adults we can become accustomed to relying on quite a limited number of routine cognitive pathways [see ‘desire pathways’ in Tom Hulme’s TED Talk below]. Exposure to novelty grows synaptic contact and gives the brain new possibilities when a solution is required, so ‘thinking outside the box’ isn’t as corny as it sounds as long as there isn’t a vacuum out there!

The value of ideas proposed by right brain enthusiasts probably arises from the novelty and experimentation aspect of the tasks rather than the neurological underpinnings claimed for them. But a critical gap in this way of thinking is the importance of letting the unconscious loose on expanded novelty and experiences and then allowing it space to drop that novelty into the creative conversation.

One of my writing tutors used to talk about ‘brooding’ her stories; letting her initial ideas evolve under the radar while she did mundane things such as cooking, washing up, walking, gardening – all activities that require little active thought [see Bored and Brilliant below]. I realised that this is the same process I call composting whereby, in my imagination, front-of-mind concrete information gradually breaks down into its organic components to become the essence of itself rather than the literal record.

And that too is a psychological process. Try reading a short passage in a book then recalling it immediately and again the next day. Chances are your first recall will be a near-literal repetition of a portion of that passage, while the second will lean more towards what it’s about and probably have fewer omissions. That’s what brooding and composting are doing – distilling and deconstructing the literality to reveal the core of what matters about the material – and it’s where the unconscious finds ideas to link to other ideas and to push up into conscious thinking while the rest of your brain is on automatic.

So, what to take away?

  • Feed your mind by doing, seeing, hearing, reading, tasting, and experiencing new things
  • Give your brain cognitive down time and …
  • Make friends with your default mode network.
  • Do things like blind contour or non-dominant hand drawing but think of these as ways of recruiting all the brain’s resources to the task rather than just one part of it. [Actually, better not to think about it at all!]
  • Don’t learn the words, learn the meaning.

***

TED talks:

Bored and Brilliant – Mamoush Zomorodi. 2017. I love this – not only does it talk about the positive effect of boredom but it mentions my new brain-mate, the Default Mode Network.

Doodlers, unite! – Sunni Brown 2011. Slightly tangential but it brings together in a very short presentation the impact of doodling as a free-wheeling activity that improves focus by alleviating the pressure of focusing.

Why some of us don’t have one true calling – Emilie Wapnick 2015. For me, relevance kicks in at about seven minutes. “Creativity happens at the intersections” [between areas of knowledge and interest].

What can we learn from shortcuts? – Tom Hulme 2016. This one is about building and environmental design but the ‘desire path’, the physical short cut people prefer to any designer-provided route, is a perfect analogy for the well-trodden connections in a brain that hasn’t really experienced anything new. Creativity requires the road less travelled:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, 1874-1963. Via The Poetry Foundation accessed 28/01/19

The surprising habits of original thinkers – Adam Grant 2016. Without mentioning it once, this TEDtalk exemplifies the role of unconscious processing in reference to procrastination. Grant talks about pre-crastinators who get things done ahead of time (and aren’t very creative), excessive procrastinators who rarely get the job done, and Goldilocks [my blog, my term!] procrastinators whose ‘down time’ seems to incubate and enable originality. 

 

To be cross-posted on my OCA course blog.

 

 

Art and politics

There’s no credit for this image on the Facebook page so I’ve clipped the whole post and added a link. I find this profoundly moving, skilful, and so simply, alarmingly, graphically on point. Science fiction has produced numerous stories of the environmental apocalypse of our own making [unfortunately I can’t put my finger on one for now] but this sculpture is the best illustration I’ve seen.

post human

I like art to have meaning, which is not to say I need it always to make political points or to be in-your-face emotional wrecking balls, just to say something that prompts a bit of thought, that doesn’t give all the answers right off the bat and requires a bit of consideration. Admittedly, I’m struggling as I write for examples that aren’t outright shockers and that’s partly because those are the ones that hit the headlines – the Banksys for instance that poke us in the eye about social injustice (Dismaland* anyone?) – but it’s also about my lack of depth in this new body of water I’ve chosen to immerse myself in. I’m paddling; things are nipping about around my ankles just out of reach but as yet I’m not even snorkelling never mind free-diving untethered down to any of the really deep deeps.

Which brings us back to this sculpture: without oxygen, we die and without awareness we wither everything that gives us the molecular, the intellectual, and the emotional oxygens we need to survive. I believe that art has a distinct role in raising awareness while acknowledging that, just as in films, TV, books and magazines, there’s room for light and delicacy, decoration, aesthetics, fun. After all, if those weren’t there, saving ourselves might not feel too attractive. Remember the jokes about giving up smoking, how you’d live ten years longer but it would feel like twenty? Everyone needs a bit of joy in their life, but we can’t have that without breathing.

 

*Dismaland

‘I don’t know’

Cross posted from my coursework blog.

This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.

Extract from Wislawa Szymborska’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, 1996.

I came across this today listening to a podcast of The Verb, a BBC Radio Three programme dedicated to all things wordy. It’s presented by Ian McMillan, a poet whose northern (Barnsley, to be precise) vowels give the lie to the idea of poetry being for the elite. It’s part of a collection of speeches ‘that changed the world’ put together by Shaun Usher and I was struck by the motif of not knowing. After all, that’s how science works; not by finding out and shutting the book, but by examining what the finding out means and asking where we go from there. It’s the kind of not knowing that isn’t about helplessness, it’s about curiosity; a quest for the ‘what next’, onion-peeling, if you like.

I do like. That a poet might also like came as a surprise, but why should it? Writers, poets, are all about bringing other lives and other ways of living to readers, with carefully crafted words designed to pull the threads of certainty and unravel our complacency. To do that, they surely have to be explorers themselves; curious and unknowing in the sense of being unhampered by assumption.

It occurs to me that art most likely does the same thing. In fact, what else were surrealists like Dali doing if not messing with our perceptions of what constitutes solidity in the physical world? Latterly, the likes of Banksy have been forcing us to think about social justice; reminding us in fact that there’s a lot we don’t know and that ignorance may be destructive if it isn’t accompanied by searching questions.

So where does that leave me and my art? However competent I might be at this, I have choices about what I make of my output. Pretty, cute, and decorative (I’ll admit to a small stream of cats making it to the card, print, and lap tray stage) or challenging and meaningful? Is it that simple? Is it actually a binary choice? Somehow I doubt it but I’m not far enough into this to provide supportive evidence. I know though that it seemed possible to interpret Magic Roundabout on two levels:

L is for LSD and every other drug under the sun. This is the Magic Roundabout’sanswer to The Da Vinci Code. In the geekish mythology of children’s television only the debate about whether Captain Pugwash had a character called Master Bates generates as much heat. (It did not). Conspiracy theorists have made much of Dougal’s sugar-cube habit (LSD?) and Brian’s speediness (amphetamines), while the rabbit’s name, Dylan, and all-round spaciness have only fuelled speculation on about what he may have been smoking. And why, too, does Ermintrude spend all day chewing flowers which makes her head spin round? In this interpretation, Mr Rusty’s invitation to the others to take a “trip” on the roundabout is far from innocent. The set’s psychedelic colours and Zebedee’s passing resemblance to Frank Zappa are wheeled out as supporting evidence.

From The Independent, 29th January 2005

What also seems evident from even a cursory glance at art history, (I used Art: the whole story, this 2018 edition edited by Stephen Farthing and published by Thames & Hudson), is that so much of it is story-telling. There’s depiction – or representation – of actual events, illustration of events that ‘must have been real’ according to prevailing beliefs and theologies, and also cameos, little blinks of the eye into private moments of domestic activity*. They’re documentary but not without commentary. Art asks questions on its own behalf but also of those of us who watch. It feels now, in the context of that Nobel acceptance speech, that art too ‘doesn’t know’ and it doesn’t know in the best way possible.

*I’ve ignored for now the vast amount of nudity in art, most of it female under the gaze of men, because that is an issue I think we’re addressing later in the course and one which has considerable relevance today as women’s voices become louder in asserting their (our) right to be seen and heard in what is still largely a male world.