Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
My sister’s 20 year old cat Ti-ti died this morning. She died with my sister stroking her fur. Her breath slowed and gradually became raspy, then stopped. I just spoke to my sister about it and after a few tears we talked about how only yesterday Ti-ti was still eating. And we marvelled at this biological urge to feed. How can it be that one day you can eat your dinner, even licking the juices, purr when being patted and the next day it’s time to go?
We started talking about the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, who died at the age of 98. Bourgeois started studying art when she was about 22. She had a pretty prolific career [ sculpture and painting], which continued until she died in 2010. She claimed that she worked mostly inspired by the traumas of her childhood and that it kept her going. She once said ‘The subject of pain is the business I am in.’ She made her last few pieces a week before she died. Wow. I mean that’s some serious urge to create art. It almost seems like making art had become such a part of her, that it was almost like a biological urge. She had been making art for more than 75 years and she didn’t stop until she had to. She may have worked from feelings of pain but I often found her art rather cheeky and full of humour.
Above: ‘Photograph of Louise Bourgeois with her sculpture Fillete’, 1982 by Robert Mapplethorpe. ‘Fillete’ [Little girl]1968, latex.
Above: ‘Maman’ 1999, by Louise Bourgeois, in front of the National Gallery of Canada.
I think a lot about what the viewer gets from art. Looking at good art opens a little crack into an unknown state. A state of mystery, or wonder or beauty or horror.
Every piece of art that an artist makes, she or he will look at it and think about the bits that went right or wrong and try to figure out why. But every now and then they will create something that works so well, that perhaps later on they can’t even figure out why it’s so fucking good. You’ve been working in this direction for a while, things are coming along, then bam.. you’ve made an absolute cracker. I wonder if this feels a bit like gambling? The occasional win keeps you going through the slog. And it brings me back to why do artists create? Its pretty hard work, there’s not much dough in it, your parents hate you for it….I guess you’d better enjoy the process, the journey, the evolution of making art. And for me that’s it. When I make something it’s not really for an audience, it’s for me. I am creating wonder for myself, I am inventing mysteries I hope will become real.
When I go to a gallery or museum to look at art, I don’t like to be told much about it before I look at it. I want to see what I see in the work and I certainly don’t want a curators pile of bullshit before I’ve seen it. I talk a lot in this blog about the difference between the idea and the meaning. The idea is what the artist was working from, and the meaning is all the stuff ascribed to the work after its made. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. But the beauty for me in seeing others artists work is to be delighted, surprised, amused, or even shocked and disgusted. What I want is to see something that makes my mind go somewhere unexpected.
But again whether someone else sees the magic in the piece or not, I still think most artists are making work to satisfy themselves. In a documentary I saw recently [‘Ugly Beauty’ by Waldemar Januszczak] Yoko Ono said ‘You’re sort of equating the reaction of the people and the value of the art…. it’s a totally different thing.’
An artist like Tracey Emin who seems to reviled and revered in equal quantities, just continues on her merry way, as indeed she should, doing what she needs to do. I like that her work, while seeming sometimes a bit obvious on the surface, kind of gets into your head. Works like ‘I know I know I know’, grow on you. It goes from seeming like a throwaway line, to a sentence full of possibilities. Fab.
Above: ‘I know I know I know’, 2007 by Tracey Emin. White and blue neon.
Emin has probably said somewhere what this is actually about, but I don’t want to know because for me that would spoil the magic. And besides not even artists are immune to the confusion between idea and meaning. It’s meaning would now be layered with opinion and media hoo-ha.
If you have the urge to make art don’t let others put you off, in their confusion about why you make things.
For me I will be remembering Ti-ti as a fine family pet and thanking her for reminding me to do something today. Give your people a few purrs or hugs and then go and make some art, create a few mysteries.