Can you be an ironic existentialist?

Over the last few hours I’ve been thinking more about this quote, which I came across yesterday.

Opposites, all the time

I couldn’t sleep last night and when I can’t sleep I am cursed with a brain that struggles to shut down. In my busy brain state, I decided that there are in fact many similar opposing, contradictory forces in our lives, in addition to the desire to communicate and the desire to hide. They act to inspire and repel us at the same time. They drive us and terrify us. They must have a purpose (or do we just notice them?). Perhaps they are spin-offs from the notion of the good and the bad, the angle and the devil, the should and the should not and the yin and the yang.

This drives us all in our actions and reactions

Related to this idea of the opposing forces in life is the prevalence of irony in life. Irony is everywhere. Irony is about opposing forces. What is irony? Irony is, to quote Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites: ‘It’s when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.’ Clever cloggs, he is.

This man knows what irony is

However, as I see it, to quote Winona Ryder in the same film: ‘I know it when I see it.’ I love irony. I see irony all the time. It follows me around. It jumps out at me. Perhaps I have an irony-dar. I like to use irony in my art in some way (remember those abandoned balloon bits and of course repetition was all about irony). Often I think I use irony without realising it, ironically. 

I believe that there needs to be more acceptance of humour in art than there currently is. A couple of years ago I saw an exhibition at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery that explored humour in art and it was very inspiring and, not at all ironically, very funny. Artists often use humour in their art and this should be recognised more. Humour is perhaps more frequently used than realised to explore the human condition in all areas of creative pursuits. Artists are often stereotyped to be depressive existentialists, exploring the point of existence through creativity, but with a heavy heart. Can one be a funny existentialist? Absolutely, yes. Look at Monty Python, they were funny existentialists extraordinaire and they were very, very creative. They were definitely ironic, depressive artists.

He won’t haggle!

I wonder if perhaps for many creative people, being funny acts to deflate from the depressing reality that there really is no meaning to it all and all you do is die in the end, alone. You have to laugh about it or you’d just live in a well of despair and nobody wants to do that if they can help it. I certainly don’t.

I hadn’t quite thought it through before but perhaps my irony-dar is part of my desire to find meaning and my desire to feel better about the lack of meaning when perhaps there really isn’t one.

Ironic, eh?

 

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Self-doubt – do all artists, all of humanity, suffer?

If I’m an artist then this is me all of the time: torn between wanting to communicate something inside me that is exploding to come out and wanting to hibernate from the world.

Opposites, all the time

(But I never really know whether I am an ‘artist’ or not, whatever an ‘artist’ is and whether it is in fact something in all of us (which I actually believe to be true).)

Thinking of the concept of an ‘artist’, then I’m struggling at the moment with overwhelming self-doubt with that identity and as, also, more importantly, as a ‘good enough’ person. I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at this humanity lark right now. I accept this doubt though as ‘normal’. I know we all feel it at times. We don’t say it to each other enough.

Joseph Beuys had it right: ‘Every human being is an artist’.

I’m an artist, are you?

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The futility of no narrative

Just under two years ago, I wrote a dissertation for my fine art degree about whether it is possible for art to exist without narrative. I talked about still-life art and the ‘narrative turn’ in the digital age and I concluded that I didn’t think it was possible to have art without narrative despite many 20th-century attempts at creating narrative-free art. 

Two years later, I have been thinking about this again, and I haven’t changed my conclusion.

Everything we do has a narrative. Every day is a narrative. Every hour is a narrative. Take today for example: ‘I woke up at 7.54am and realised that I had to get up soon as I needed to get some ham, cheese and bread with which to feed our guests. I eventually rose at 8.20am after having a much-needed cup of coffee and a much-craved browse of social media. I decided to wear a stripy polo-neck top and black skirt. It was supposed to rain later so I didn’t expect it to be hot. For breakfast I had a roll with cheese and ketchup and a glass of orange juice.’ I could go on but the story of my day (at least the start of it) isn’t terribly exciting. However, my point is that it IS a story. There is a narrative. I’m not sure that I have the audience gripped here, but there is a narrative that someone somewhere can relate to (perhaps someone who also likes cheese and ketchup for breakfast).

Staple breakfast fodder

Later on today, as I was about to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones (which, let’s face it, is pregnant with narrative), I was thinking about the lives of myself and a group of friends of mine. I was thinking about how myself and these friends have recently had some hard issues to deal with and how we have knitted these issues together without realising it into the fabric of our changing relationships. The last few months of our lives, intertwined as they have been, have been tough. Our lives, bonded together like this, and if told out loud, sound a little like a soup opera. Is that a good thing? Totally, it is a normal thing.

The narrative that the people of the year 2017 are lapping up like thirsty puppies

In soup operas, people eat, drink, love, fight, sleep, tangle, die, marry, divorce, and so on. This is just like our lives.

Everything is a narrative. Every trip to the shops, every conversation, every night out and, as I argued in my dissertation, so also is our response to a piece of art. Paint a picture, post it to Facebook, show it to someone, they will give it a narrative. Trust me. They will. Do it. I know, because they recently did it to me. I liked that they did this. This to me was A Good Thing.

It is hard to argue against the ‘search for a narrative’ argument for a picture that shows a scene, an image or even a shape or line. How about paintings such as this one?

Malevich’s very famous Black Square

Surely, no narrative can be conjured up from this? I disagree: the absence of an image is the narrative. The discussion about what it means, what the response is, is the narrative. The emotional reaction one might get from staring at this painting is itself part of the narrative, or perhaps the start of a narrative.

We find narrative comforting. We cannot live without it. Why? That is what I’m not sure about. Without narrative we feel great anxiety. If we feel that our life has no meaning, no direction, no future, no narrative then we feel anxiety. It is the lack of a narrative that we perceive and it is that lack that makes us feel uneasy and unwell. So if we see no narrative in art, we can’t cope. We search for it desperately, even in a black square, to bring us back to somewhere where we feel grounded again.

We look to art to provide us with narrative when we feel there is narrative lacking in our lives. If we can’t find that narrative,what is left? Empty black space for eternity. Nobody wants that, surely? Even black space has a story to tell.

 

 

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Now it’s your turn, Grayson!

I now can’t imagine writing a normal review ever again. I think this is the future for me.

Grayson Perry

The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

8 June–10 September 2017

Doodles pregnant with meaning on pots, prints and tapestries, this collection speaks loud. Angry about Brexit? Look, ponder, and reconsider: leave feeling renewed empathy for those you might not agree with. Quirky, colourful everyday objects amuse and entertain: gain insight into the artist’s serious yet fun take on this world.

Here! Here!

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The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 50 words – is that possible?

I’ve come to find the concept of writing a 50-word review both challenging and addictive. So here’s another one.

RA Summer Exhibition 2017

Royal Academy of Arts, London

13 June–20 August 2017

An annual exhibition: an explosion of colour, shape, texture, concept and skill. The senses are treated to room upon room of carefully-placed, yet seemingly random, pieces which delight at every turn. Much inspires me, still learning as I am, from masters of the trade to fellow armatures as I.

The best way to view this exhibition is with a titled head

 

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I Want! I Want! Art and Technology in just 50 words

Finally, here is the third 50-word review of the weekend. 

I Want! I Want!

Art & Technology

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

1 April–1 October 2017

‘An exhibition of the symbiosis of human with data where art and technology blend, merging the real with the virtual, traditional with contemporary, static with motion and the past with the present. Diverse ideas are explored through unconventional mediums: from philosophical space invaders to a dawn chorus of human voices.’

My favourite piece – philosophical space invaders

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Sheela Gowda – it’s your turn to be reduced to 50 words

No explanation needed, see previous post. Brevity rocks!

Sheela Gowda

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

16 June–3 September 2017

‘Works merge and react with the gallery space creating an immense presence of different textures and colours. There is a sense of movement and the cycle of life, ironically shown through a stilling of objects and images. Space is not wasted; the objects suffused with emotion.’

Colour, texture, image and emotion

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