What creativity block has done for me

It’s taken me a long time to write this so please be kind.

Creatively, I am usually very manic. At least, normally I experience short waves of activity followed by short waves of inactivity. It’s the way my brain functions. I can be high on life and art one week, feverish in activity, and then lost in a fog and slumped under a metaphorical duvet, pinned down, unable to move the next. It has been my natural order of things for a long time. I’ve accepted this. I’ve embraced the down days for what they are, recovery days, and enjoyed the high days for what they give, intellectual stimulation and colour.

Late last spring last year I fell into the usual slump time. However, this time it didn’t last a week. It wasn’t the expected short-term trough of the familiar wave. This slump lasted six months. It was the opposite of a tsunami. This longevity of slump took me by surprise and indeed it frustrated me. The cloud of creative inactivity refused to lift first after the usual week, then after a month, int continued to refuse to budge after two months. The suffocation seemed to have no end. I tried very hard to shift the cloud. Nothing worked. So I gave up, shrugged and buried myself in work instead. As it turns out my heart wasn’t completely there either despite my efforts. I found myself to be ineffective creatively and otherwise. Work acted was my distraction and my excuse for the lack of creativity. But the tactic wasn’t working. I found I was making mistakes all over the place. By Christmas, I had become confused and upset. Nothing was working as it should. By the end of the year, I was very lost. I didn’t see that though at the time. Don’t you just love hindsight?

Thankfully, the blockage has just lifted. And as a consequence, I now feel able to write about it and reflect on it. The lift has come just in time. I was starting to feel incredibly anxious and concerned for the future of my MA. I was a few months from the end yet I felt that I had stalled completely. I was avoiding contact with anyone of authority for fear they’d ask me about my work. I didn’t know whether this stasis was temporary or permanent. I was quite scared. That fear caused my great anxiety. The spiral downwards continued. So I saw the New Year in buried deep in a terror that this was it. I was no longer an artist. I felt a fraud. I didn’t have the usual optimism for a fresh start that is normally prevalent after Christmas. I was still swimming in glue.

I now can look back and see clearly what the problem was. I don’t want to go into details but suffice it is to say, I have had a hard few months in my personal life, with a lot of changes taking place, and although these changes are right for me and for the circumstances I found myself in, change is always hard. It doesn’t matter whether the change is positive or negative, it is challenges the psyche. Yet as I was living this period of upheaval, I did not want this to be a reason for the dulling in my creativity. That seemed too cliched. The last thing I wanted was to feel sorry for myself or to generate sympathy from others. I spent the six months in denial, battling the reality. I refused to accept that I couldn’t cope with life’s challenges and be an artist. That’s rubbish! I thought. No, it really isn’t.

Now I’m coming out of that fog I realise that that denial was actually, ironically, keeping me in that state. I see clearly that the things that happen in our lives affect our thinking and ability to generate ideas, of course they do. I have always been good at telling this to other people going through crisis. It is the human condition. So why did I ignore this truth when it came to myself? Pride? Stubbornness? I’m not a quitter. I was terrified of failure and that terror was making failure more likely. This is not uncommon. Many people do this and it is self-destructive. Yes this is easy to say, not so easy to recognise in oneself. It was only when I let go of that fear, realising that failure is not ‘failure’, it’s part of the journey, that I turned a corner and my old friend my creative side returned. Oh how I have missed you.

I can’t end this self-indulgent poring out of thoughts without sharing the advice that saved me. This applies to anyone struggling in life, creatively or otherwise. It  came to me at the right time, from one of my creative heroes, Michael Caine. It is simple, in the form of three words packed with power. Read them and reflect.

The wise Mr Caine

Use The Difficulty.

I am back. UTD always.

 

 

 

 

 

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The object I couldn’t live without is…

What would you expect the answer to be to this question? Something treasured, something alive? Something vital to life? Some unique artefact of sentimental object with a personal history? Or perhaps something useful?

Could you live without John Snow?

When I posed this question to my Facebook Family and asked them to post photographs of their ‘can’t live without’ objects, I was flooded with images some of which surprised me. Some of the things they declared as objects that they couldn’t possibly live without included the above – treasured things (rings), living things (pets) and things vital to life (glasses and an inhaler). However, I also had some responses that surprised (and, frankly, baffled) me. I do love to be baffled though. People aren’t predictable and that is a great thing.

Perhaps living without this little cutie would be impossible

Two people posted photographs of a pair of slippers. To me, this was really fascinating and unexpected. I could easily live without my slippers. I also saw three means of heating houses (a boiler and two fireplaces). These are useful, perhaps, but not much fun to have around. I saw lots of shoes and boots. As a lover of boots I could see the merit in saving one’s favourite boots but again, there are other things I’d chose before I grabbed my boots. One person decided that she couldn’t live without a swimming pool. She lives in New Zealand, I guess that explains.

These slippers are well-loved by their owner perhaps

Another friend declared that her iPhone was the object she couldn’t live without. This answer I liked. This would be my answer too. My iPhone is my means of communication with loved ones and friends, my diary, my alarm clock, my sporting statistics generator, my portal to work emails, my window on that vast jungle of joy we call the Internet, my photograph album, my camera, my video camera, my notebook, my sketchpad, my art journal and my news channel. It also allows me to do complicated sums, watch music videos, listen to music and read. It is so much. I simply could not live without it. I think that many people might secretly also feel the same way. It’s odd to me that not many would be prepared to admit this.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this little social media exercise and I hope that I get more replies. I just love that I was so baffled. Thank you dear friends!

Herewith the statistics on the responses so far:

Animate things (pets): 3 (2 dogs, 1 cat)
Mugs of tea: 3
Boots: 3
Shoes: 3
Cushions (one with John Snow on it): 3
Fireplaces / boilers: 3
Books (one shelf, one kindle and one book about Morris dancing): 3
Slippers: 2
Glasses: 2
Remote controls: 2
Jewellery (rings): 2
Dairies: 2
iPhone: 1
Keys: 1
Drawing pins: 1
Crystals: 1
Swimming pools: 1
Toy trucks: 1
ITV television centres: 1
Sewing machines: 1
Crochet hooks: 1
Cans of vimto: 1
Cotton buds: 1
Hats: 1
Scarfs: 1
Coffee pots: 1
Inhalers: 1

And the award for the most bizarre object goes to: ITV television centre.

Is Jeremy Kyle worth keeping?

What I am going to do with this information, is something that is in the creative pipeline. All I can say is: watch this space and you might find out.

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The objects of cyberspace – who is the creator?

I’ve decided that I want to recreate a physical, yet not quite physical, virtual reality of cyberspace in a virtual reality environment. 

What is cyberspace? I’ve already written about that so I won’t repeat myself. Now I am getting closer to the end of my MA by Research I am asking whether it would be possible to re-create the imagined objects of cyberspace, as other people see them, in an environment they can physically enter yet not touch.

Cyberspace is a mental reality. It is also a physical reality. It exists so therefore it is physical, we cannot deny that. Yet, what does it look like? We can’t touch it so therefore it isn’t physical. Yet it touches our lives. We all enter it every day, for hours sometimes. It can be an addictive place to be in. But really, what does it look like? How I see it might be different to how the person reading this sees it.

This is a very science fictional image of cyberspace

To me, this parallels how we see the mind. How I see my mind cannot ever be the same as how the person reading this sees their mind. I see it as a physical place, somewhere I enter when I’m thinking or I’m trying to sleep. Somewhere I feel I really am physically immersed in when I am asleep and dreaming. Is not cyberspace a bit like that? Can we describe it? Is it a positive space or a negative space? 

So my question is: would it be possible to re-create a cyberspace based on everyone’s interpretation of it? Or is that a little too ambitious? After all, I can’t imagine recreating my mind.

If I manage to do this, the question is, who is the creator? Me, or ‘you’. If I ask ‘you’ how you see cyberspace and I create a cyberspace based on the answers from a lot of ‘you’s’, then who is the artist? You are.

Indeed, who could we describe as the original creator of the real cyberspace? God created the physical world (or so some believe), therefore did he create also the virtual one? There is no such thing as something out of nothing.

 

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MA Fine Art Degree Show 2018 – 1984 and beyond

I am a bit late in writing up my thoughts on the MA Fine Art Degree Show which took place at The New Art Gallery, Walsall. The exhibition has ended now, but I didn’t want to remain speechless about an exhibition that inspired me so much and included the work of some very good friends of mine who have now left (and whose presence I will miss about the place as I complete my MA). My excuse for not writing this earlier is work. I have been extremely busy with paid work and sadly, this has eaten into any time for art or writing about art. However, today, lying in my sick bed nursing a delicate digestive system, I have both the time and inclination to write.

When I think back to this year’s MA Fine Art Show one word comes to mind: 1984. I’m not talking about the year I chose my GCSE options, the year of Thatcher’s height of fame, the year of big mobiles and yuppies. I’m referring to the novel by George Orwell of that name. To me, as I walked around the exhibition with my three boys during the opening night, the MA Fine Art Show had an Orwellian feel to it. By this I mean that the themes the pieces covered reminded me of the vision of the future in that book, a vision that has to some degree come to fruition, yet it has also, in many ways, remained science fiction. It is the mix of community-artist interactions and us-them concepts delved into which I felt at the MA Show that gave me this eerie sensation.

Big Brother is watching you

The space itself was an amazing space for an exhibition: shiny black floor, tall white walls, room upon room of well-presented and professional creative artworks. Together it was a delight for the senses and for the brain. There was much to think about and ponder on, including time and space; the contemporary avant garde; self-image; projected image; inequality in wealth; capitalism; community; stereotypes; and surveillance. There was art to look at, art to interact with, art to walk inside and around. I felt as if there were no bounds on the artworks on display, which as I say often is what art should be now. There are no bounds and neither should there be now. Anything goes: from the simple to the complicated, from the crafted to the borrowed, from the static to the moving, from the big to the small. 

What is time and space? Are they the same thing?

I just hope that I can contribute something as good as the pieces I saw at the New Art Gallery in Walsall when it comes to my time this time next year. Watch this space, as they say.

And the highlight of the evening? Seeing the real Gilbert and George and what a dapper, fascinating, couple they are. They are artists to aspire to as for them, anything goes. They are living proof that art is whatever you make it.

The Two Gs

 

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Visions of Science – visions of the future

I have two passions within my art practice which trump all the other passions: drawing and objects. I love to draw. It is my thing. I doodle all of the time. And objects fascinate me. I love my things. I have a relationship with all things that I see as valuable as the relationships I have with people. And I’ve recently become quite intrigued by the concept of intangible objects and the role they have in our lives, as either objects that exist or objects that can be created through art in cyberspace. My current question is: can we have as strong a relationship with intangible things as we can with tangible? So instead of asking whether we can have as strong a relationship with people as we can with things, which was my previous research question, mainly with my BA, it is now whether this strength can extent from solid to the non-haptic. I would like to think that the answer is ‘yes’ but this idea needs further investigation and testing.

When I found out about the Vision of Science exhibition at The Edge in Bath I realised that it was a must for me to see this in terms of how closely it could relate to my art practice and research. 

Bath is a 250-mile round trip from my house and I made this trip yesterday, to the point of exhaustion by 10pm, but it was worth every mile. The exhibition did not disappoint. It included an eclectic, but thoughtfully put together, selection of artworks inspired by science or the digital world. It consisted of many expressions of the creative – two-dimensional and three-dimensional, static and non-static, digital and traditional, and those created by craft and those created by computer. This is what art should be now – anything goes and nothing should be beyond the realms of possibility or the definition of ‘creative’.

There was one particular highlight for me and that was a video / performance piece / oil painting in action by Albert Barqué-Duran called ‘My Artificial Muse’. This piece was presented in the exhibition as a video of a performance but it encompassed so many ways of expression that it would be restrictive to call it just a video piece. In this piece, he questions whether a muse can be artificial. Can a computer generate a muse, which traditionally is very much the physical and very much of the flesh? It looks into the field of computational creativity, which aims to formulate an algorithmic perspective on creative behaviour and aesthetic appreciation in humans. Given that my last mini-project as part of my MA research was about creating new ‘cyber’ objects in a traditional format (oil paint) based on descriptions that came to me from real ‘flesh’ (people) via cyberspace, this notion of creating a muse by algorithm interests me.

My Artificial Muse in action

I feel that I have now had the spur I needed to rejoin the sometimes difficult road towards the conclusion of my MA Thesis. The subject will never conclude of course, but I need to reach some sort of mini-conclusion and point of exhibition in order to tie the ends up neatly, for now at least. I can continue the road beyond that at my leisure (or as a PhD if fortune shines down on me).

There were many other artworks to inspire me at The Edge but this was the one that will remain with me, including a number of pieces by two people I know in the real world, one of which I participated in in an indirect way at the Virtual Reality Drawing Symposium I attended which was pivotal in giving me direction in my MA. There is much of quality and contemporaneity to see.

By way of conclusion, when I told my son what I was going to do in Bath he looked at me and said: ‘Mother, I know what you are, you are a VRtist!’

The exhibition runs until October 13th.

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Explaining is hard

One aspect of being an artist that I have always found quite hard is explaining myself. I seem to have to do it a lot. I don’t like explaining myself to artists, art students, tutors, my mum, my brother, friends or strangers. It doesn’t matter who asks me the dreaded questions, I am always gripped with fear: ‘What is it that you do?’, ‘What are you working on at the moment?’ or (much worse) ‘What is your thesis about?’ 

My friend Steve just doesn’t get my art

I think there are two issues at play which explain my paralysis. The first is impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome haunts my daily life. I walk around life feeling as if I am a fraud. It doesn’t matter how well I do with my art, how many reasonable marks I get, how much praise I might receive, how many exhibitions I take part in or how many projects I am involved in, I feel as if I am gate crashing the art world and someone is just waiting around the next corner to shout ‘aha, gotcha!’. In my head, I’m not a real artist. All those others are real artists, I’m not. I’m pretending. I feel as if I actually spend more time working, hula hooping, looking after children, driving children around and day dreaming than I do ‘arting’. A real artist lives, eats, breathes art, surely? I don’t. I can’t. I haven’t actually arted for a month now. So when I get asked ‘What are you working on at the moment?’ my in-my-head answer is ‘nothing at all’ and my external answer comes out as ‘well, erm, I’m kind of doing some sort of research into, well you see, my art practice is all about things, you know, objects…’. By this point I’m lost, they look lost, they frown, I see the frown, my belly flips with disappointment and I find I am trying desperately to think of a change of subject to, err, what to eat for lunch, where to go for coffee or whether they have just had a hair cut or not.

The second issue is that I have always felt there is a missing link connecting my brain to my voice. I know in my head what I am interesting in, researching, thinking about, writing about, drawing (sometimes) but I can’t articulate it in any intellectual way vocally. I can write about it. I love writing. I can wax lyrical for pages and pages about art. I love blogging, I love writing my thesis, I love thinking about art, but I can’t speak it. The words just tumble out in a different order to which they were formed in my head. And once I start to try to explain myself, the spectre of impostor syndrome jumps back up again and takes over and the situation is far worse. I find myself completely lost in the forest of doubt and meaningless words (as you can see I’m still fascinated with metaphors, even really bad ones).

I end up feeling a bit sad and disappointed in myself. Why can’t I just talk about my artistic interests with confidence and enthusiasm? I feel enthusiastic about it but it comes across as extreme doubt. If I look as if I doubt myself, then the ‘other’ people will doubt my integrity. There is also a fear biting away at me that what interests me is extremely dull to others. I worry that they just won’t like it, or worse, won’t get it and they will form a negative judgement on my intelligence, or perhaps even my sanity.

So I need to learn to care less. If I care less, the words may flow easier. In the words of Alan Bennett: ‘You don’t have to like everything’. I should remember this. For years, my mum told me to ‘paint pretty things’. She didn’t used to get my art (the good news is that she does get it more now). My brother, also, has questioned what I do. My goal should be to get him to get it. But, now I think so what if people don’t understand what I am doing. It adds to the challenge (i.e. getting my brother to go ‘ohhhh now I see it’) and, ironically, the more confusion I am met with, the more I want to do it to beat the confusion. Who wants to produce art that everybody gets straight away anyway? I’ve written about this before: if everyone gets it, then you fail. If there is doubt and questioning, then you pass.

I love what I do, even if I feel like the biggest gate crasher at the wedding (yes, I have actually done that, once). ‘Who is that person?’ they might cry. But sometimes it is the gate crasher who proves to be the life and soul of the party. Perhaps I need to just aspire to be that gate crasher.

 

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Whose balls are these?

Objects fascinate me. In particular, the idea of who has owned objects and what trace they leave on those objects once they pass on or are lost. This idea has been a constant in my art practice from objects owned by my children to World War I objects to abandoned burst balloons.

Last week I went to Wimbledon (for the first time ever!). Yes, I was exploding with excitement. But that’s not the focus of this blog.

My view at Wimbles last week

Yes, it really was very ace. I will never forget the day.

But while I was there, I acquired some used tennis balls for my children. This wasn’t an easy acquisition but that is a long story involving the kindness of a stranger. I’m not going to tell that story here. But I am grateful to that lovely stranger.

Don’t worry, all was not lost after I saw this depressing sign

When I got home and presented the used Wimbledon balls to my children, they were rather excited. In fact, they were more excited by the used balls than they were by the expensive Wimbledon souvenir tat that I had also returned home with. The used balls have been a bigger hit, pardon the pun, than the keyring, towel, magnet or lanyard. 

Who has touched these balls?

Why is that? It is because of the mystery of these used balls. It is because there is a teeny, tiny possibility that someone ‘famous’ has ‘touched’ our used balls. This idea fascinated my children. I think what interested them the most was that they just have no way of knowing. We will never know. We cannot even try to find out. It is impossible. This sensation reminds me of the mystery of Schrödinger’s cat. You know he is either dead or alive (the balls were either touched by a famous tennis star, or they weren’t) but you just have to be content with not knowing. There is excitement in not knowing because of the ‘might’ element. So the thrill of the chance is the ‘might’ (the cat is either dead or alive). This is enough to make the object much more precious than a random other tennis ball that has only been touched by mere mortals.

Live kitty or dead kitty, you decide.

I found myself getting caught up in the romance of this ‘what if’ idea. I told my children that they could play tennis with the balls but they must not under any circumstances lose them. In fact, the thought crossed my mind that by playing with them, they might somehow ‘rub off’ the trace left by a possible Jack Draper, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams or Julia Görges (the one with the shoes). Logically, that is a rather strange worry to have. Firstly, the balls we own may not have been touched by anyone of note. Secondly, even if they had, the amount of DNA or sweat they may have left on the balls is going to be minute. Thirdly, even if they had left some trace of themselves on the balls, this is fairly meaningless – what does a bit of ‘me’ mean? It is nothing really, it is just material. It isn’t emotional. Having said that, I like to believe that we do leave a trace of our emotional lives on objects. But this isn’t a scientific fact. It’s purely a romantic notion. This doesn’t make the balls special in any way. They are, after all, just tennis balls that have seen a tiny bit of action on a court.

Still, my children and I are very fond of our used balls. We feel the magic even if it isn’t real. And why not? Perhaps there is a trace of Nadal sweat on one of them, and with that, some tennis luck. Next time I play tennis I might take along our used balls and see what happens. Given that I haven’t played tennis for years that might be a long time from now.

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Swimming with the metaphors

I’ve recently found myself magnetically drawn towards metaphors. Previously, they occasionally floated past my consciousness, barely registering in my busy tumble-dryer of a mind. Now, they seem to be everywhere. They loom in everyday speech, in books, in poetry, on TV, in my mind and in my dreams. They aren’t literally in all of these places of course. Point well made, I hope. Do you want to hear the story of the metaphoric transition from hardly-there to everywhere? If so, read on.

It all started one evening last week when I was fed up of being annoyed by all the references to Love Island on social media. I wanted to understand the appeal rather than just continue to live with my inner grumbling. So I decided to watch said programme to see what it seemed to be offering my Dunbar’s Number in the way of intellectual stimulation and / or entertainment. To make the experience more pleasurable, anticipating a certain amount of confusion and / or pain given the low-brow reputation of the programme, I decided to make a list of all the metaphors used by the participants. As a device to increase the joy felt in my pleasure centres, it worked. Instead of boredom, I experienced an hour of rosy, pink, unicorn-tinted happiness, which is rare for me when it comes to viewing television (I am a restless soul). As for the quality of the programme, I wasn’t bowled over. However, as for metaphor gathering potential, Love Island is in the top ten at least.

In the interests of art research, I now present my Love Island metaphors in all their cliched glory.

Love Island Metaphors

Since that evening, I’ve been consuming metaphors during all my waking hours and I have grown to love them deeply. They touch my soul in new ways.

I’ve even started inventing a few of my own. My own crazy creations are a little ridiculous, hopefully humorous, I admit. In fact, they aren’t so much as metaphors, but mixed metaphors. For me, language is a minefield of intellectual playthings. I could toy with words all day long, that is, if I didn’t have to clock in on the treadmill of work.

This is my second favourite.

I think that one reason I love metaphors so much is that they start with ‘meta’, which is one of my favourite prefixes (and, yes, I do have a list of favourite prefixes at home – who doesn’t?). Meta is an abstract concept and I am partial to a bit of abstract. I am especially partial to things that are half real and half abstract – meta-abstract?

The prefix ‘meta’ makes me think clouds, air, depth, floating and other worldly.  My current favourite parallel universe is cyberspace. Cyberspace exists in the metaverse. My thoughts exist in the metaverse. These are not the same metaverses, but they overlap. This cat exists in the metaverse of someone’s thoughts and in the metaverse of cyberspace.

Cute kitty or sad penguin?

I digress. We should travel back to the land of metaphors, metaphors in this universe at least.

I’ve just realised I am assuming that everyone reading this knows what a metaphor is. Perhaps I should offer a definition to soothe their troubled brows. A metaphor compares two concepts that might at first seem unrelated, such as ‘cat’ and ‘penguin’ to borrow from the image above. One of the concepts might be an abstract idea (so actually neither cat nor penguin) and the other is likely to be a tangible object. For example: ‘love is a battlefield’. We may feel that we know what love is (especially if we feel it) yet we can’t see it and we would struggle to describe it to someone who has no experience of love. Put the concept of ‘love’ next to a ‘battlefield’, which we can see, touch and describe, and then we end up with a new entity, a new way to view love. Of course, whether love actually is a battlefield is a matter of debate. It can be, I guess – fighting, gore, lost limbs, noise, sweat? My point is that ordinary language cannot describe love. Yet the use of a meta-device (taking a word out of context and putting it with a new context) gives language the tool needed to create a better image of love (the abstract concept). 

Can we conclude from this that art can aid in the description of intangible things such as love, hate, happiness, better than language alone can? Yes! Of course I believe that. I’m an artist.

I also like the idea that metaphors exist in the metaverse of our minds (we create them, they didn’t exist before we came along with our words and ways to juxtapose words in an artistic way) and the metaverse of cyberspace (someone put that cat penguin online for me to find today). There is no such thing as a battlefield of love, a thing that we can touch. Yet, can you imagine it in your head? Could I, as the artist, create this image and put it out into cyberspace? I’d like to think that were possible. I’m not sure I want to do it with ‘love is a battlefield’ but I might like to do it with other, more interesting, less cliched metaphors.

The world is a bizarre and lovely place, it has many levels which I don’t think we appreciate enough yet: the real level (the level I see now sat here in my studio looking out at Wolverhampton in all its urbanised glory), the level of our minds (the thoughts circling my head right now) and the level of the virtual (the cat penguins on the Internet). They blend and they exist, they overlap. There is so much more to discover, and next I would like to travel by my mind’s magic carpet to the land of cyber-metaphors.

As an appendix to this blog entry, I have a question: how many metaphors can I get away with using yet still retain credibility in one blog post? If anyone gets the correct number, they will win the ice-cream cone of intellectual superiority. Well done! As for credibility? I think I have lost it. It has been quite good fun writing badly on purpose. I hope you, dear reader, have enjoyed the ride as much as I have.

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Is this compulsory? Reflections from the 2018 Fine Art Degree Show

It is degree show time in the UK art education world. Last Friday, marked the opening of the University of Wolverhampton 2018 Fine Art Degree Show. It was my fourth in a row. The first I attended as a future Wolverhampton fine art student, the second I took part in even though I wasn’t quite graduating yet, the third was for my graduation, and this one, I participated in as an interloper, as an MA student ‘one year on’.

The title of the catalogue this year is: ‘Is This Compulsory?’ I’m not sure where the title came from or what it means to the students graduating with their BAs but it resonates quite strongly with me, a one-year-on graduate in fine art.

To me the question ‘Is This Compulsory?’ reflects a more direct, less friendly question I have been asked a lot since I took up art 6 years ago after a hiatus of 20 years. That question is: ‘Why are you doing this?’

The question is bold, yet I have been asked it a lot in many guises (and it is often accompanied by a look of bemusement). The sentiment behind the question has many elements: Why are you spending your time engaging in something that probably won’t bring you fame and certainly won’t bring you fortune, costs you money, definitely doesn’t pay the bills, and isn’t academically or physically difficult (of course, this is a naive, and erroneous view)? Why are you being so selfish? Why aren’t you putting your family first? It isn’t compulsory, they say, so why do it, why? It doesn’t lead to a ‘better job’ they cry. It doesn’t feed your family, they add. Art isn’t necessary, it is the lesson you doss about in at school. It is a luxury, a self-indulgence or it is a sign that the real world is too much for you to take. In summary, it is just a frivolous waste of your time. 

The big question

My answer to these questions within the question is: I don’t know why I am doing this, I just am, and it is compulsory, to me, I cannot stop and I won’t stop. In fact, I refuse to stop. It is intellectually challenging. It is supporting my family (in their creative education and development) and it is physically demanding.

Looking around the exhibits at the degree show this year I see that there are many other people who share this view. They also feel the compulsion to create. They share my need to view the world through a visual lens. They are unable to resist the impulse to make, paint, draw, construct, speak, act, live, breathe and be art. They want to communicate with the outside world, with you, with me, through colour, shapes, images, words, sounds, effects, emotions and objects. They are art. Art is compulsory.

From Caitlin Doherty’s massive, temporary nudes which pulse with emotion and essence to Colin Marshall’s thought-provoking visual reflections on the image in the digital age and to Kirsty Adams’ quirky, hyperreal cyber shop of social media delights (which my children loved) I could feel this compulsion coming through very strongly. I felt it elsewhere too of course – in the colours, textures, shapes, words and painterly skills I saw. I particularly felt it during the opening night with the buzz, the heat, the noise and the excitement. The annual show is  a celebration of compulsion and obsession, and I felt this even more so this year. Even today, three days later, when the show is still open to the public, yet without the buzz and bustle, I still feel it. The work on the walls is whispering, a bit like the boys in the black-and-white photographs in the scene in Dead Poet’s Society who whisper to the current students: ‘Carpe Diem, Carpe Diem’. The artworks are whispering to the doubters out there: ‘Art is compulsory, art is compulsory’.

Art is in the blood of many. It is in the heart of many. Yet why do so many regard it as a fuzzy, frivolous, superficial superfluous extra of human endeavour, including those in charge of education and budgets? This is a tragedy and completely wrong and ultimately very, very worrying for the future of my children and their children. Art needs to be celebrated, championed, and encouraged for all. It is a philosophy, it is a way of problem solving, thinking up ideas, communicating, translating, reflecting, narrating. It is a way of life. It is human nature. It just is.

Art is compulsory. And that is also why I am wearing this t-shirt today: Save Wolverhampton Arts!

My t-shirt

 

At least that is how art is for me. I cannot yet see the end to my art. And why should I?

 

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Duckie vs Fortnight – what would you give up?

In my research for my Masters I am looking at our relationship with real, tangible objects – things we can have a haptic experience with – compared with our relationship with virtual intangible objects (hyperobjects) such as Facebook, Twitter, digital photographs, text online, the Internet, games – things we cannot have a haptic experience with in the traditional sense. (Here I see another question – can the haptic exist in the virtual? That’s another blog for another day. My brain is working overtime today.)

I believe that most of us living in the contemporary world feel as strong a pull towards virtual possessions, a pull as strong as the one we have with real ones. I don’t ascribe to the fear of the digital and the argument for the addictive nature of social media and the Internet. Rather, I acknowledge that they are equal in our lives to the reality of physical things. This is based on my own experience. However, I think it is unpopular to regard digital possessions as as equally valid as non-digital ones. Why is that? Is that just a prejudice against the modern? A fear of the addictive quality of the digital (or the supposed addictive quality of the digital)? It reminds me of the 1970s fear of watching too much television leads to square-shaped eyes. I’m sure Walter Benjamin would have something to say about the pernicious digital age (at least in relation to art).

Today over lunch I asked my two youngest children to make a choice between keeping the Internet or keeping their non-essential physical possessions. My middle son currently spends a lot of time playing Minecraft and Fortnite on his computer. He uses the Internet via his phone to keep in touch with friends. My youngest son doesn’t have a phone but he uses the Internet like a set of 1970s encyclopedias he can carry around in iPad form. I cannot imagine him being happy without google at his fingertips. In fact, when his iPad needs charging, he struggles when he has a burning question on his mind (particularly if I don’t know the answer to it).

That game that people are talking about

They asked a few questions such as ‘Can I keep my clothes?’, ‘Are you really going to take something away?’ and ‘Am I in trouble?’ But once I reassured them, surprisingly, they both chose to give up the Internet. They didn’t hesitate in their answers. Even when asked ‘Are you sure?’ 

Is that because the Internet is intangible and they cannot ‘imagine’ a life without it in the same way they can imagine a life without real things? They can ‘feel’ their things more easily in their mind (as well as their hands) when pondering the question compared to ‘feeling’ a loss for Fortnite, google and minecraft. If I could conduct the experiment in real terms and ask them to spend a week without their things except their iPad, iPhone and computer and then a week without the iPad etc, would their answers differ from before? 

I’m currently asking this question on social media (ironic, I know). I will be interested to see the response from adults compared to younger people and children. My sample is quite small so far – about six adults have replied, with no doubt, to say they’d give up their digital possessions including the Internet.

As for myself, I’m struggling. There is so much in my digital sphere, such as access to friends and family, messages, photographs that are just stored digitally, my blog, emails and access to a wealth of information and entertainment that I would struggle to live without and that feel quite attached to. Yet, if I had to give up old letters and photographs from the pre-Internet age, my books, my jewellery and gifts from people which I treasure, that would break me too.

This leads me to conclude that for myself at least, the digital, non-tangible possessions I have are just as important to me as the ones I can see and touch as I type this, such as my pebble people. I bought one of these a couple of years ago. I saw this in a seaside shop and immediately a memory flooded my head – I had had this ornament as a child. As a consequence, I had to buy one and I now treasure this mere thing.

Rock concert – get it?

Would I be happy with just this picture of it, in my blog? I’m not sure. What would the pebbles say?

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