Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
I grew up in a small city. People like to make jokes about it.[ Weird murders… don’t ask] It’s not cool. It’s not New York. Or Paris. Or London. Or Shanghai.
But I have noticed that a lot of people who make great art, music, books, movies, well frankly a lot of them seem to be from somewhere just a bit crummy, or weird. Even the people who are from somewhere cool aren’t really from there. They grew up somewhere else and went there to be cool. Ok sure there are super cool people who really are from NY who make great stuff but it’s not the point. My point is: the artist is not the work. The place they are from is not the work. Their rich/poor/creepy parents are not the work either.
Of course where you are from influences you. How you were brought up. But the thing is it’s not who you are, it’s what you do with it that counts.
I have friend who is from a very small town in South Australia. It’s really daggy. I have been there a couple of times and I might prefer to not go there again. I met this friend when he answered an ad to come into a share house with me and another friend. He was in his early twenties and said he was a scriptwriter. Mostly when people tell you they are a scriptwriter, what they seem to mean is they want to be one. Or are trying to be one. But he already was one. At the ripe old age of about 22 he was writing for a popular soap opera. Ever since then he has continued to write for ever more interesting shows and is currently head writer on a popular new sitcom [dramedy?] here in oz. I’m not going to tell you his name because I haven’t had a chance to ask him if that’s ok.
The thing that impresses me most apart from his sense of humour is his work ethic. He writes mostly at home and sets work hours from before 9 til after 5. He doesn’t lie about aimlessly like some of us do [ me I mean], when we are left to our own devices. He really has got where he is because he writes a lot. And writes some more. His sense of humour is very wacky and in part forged from living in such a small town. Couple this with the fact that he is gay and most small Australian towns are not known for their love of the gay. [ I think this is changing a bit so don’t send me a grumpy email about it]. I don’t know that he was bullied, but he certainly put up with a lot of bigotry. He makes light of it but it informs his work. He really does see both the beauty and ugliness of the Australian way of life. And he reveals his love of it with a certain tenderness when he writes. Sometimes growing up somewhere weird, boring or gruesome builds you a personality where you have something to say. You develop a certain internal life.
Some people have this idea that all artists are crazy, or they are all cool young guys out spray painting in the street. Artists in movies are generally portrayed as total freaks or unstable. [Yes I am financially unstable, but not mentally].
Anyone can make art. You can be poor, rich, happy sad, crazy, sane, fat, thin, religious or not, cool or nerdy. You can be a kid or an oldie, a person with a disability, Japanese, American, Icelandic. We are not all from either the crazy or the cool mold.
I often feel that I am a bit of a boring average person, you know. I’m not cool, I didn’t go to an amazing art school, just a regular one. My family is pretty normal [on the surface anyway]. So what have I got to offer? Well I guess when you delve below the surface of most artists, what they have in common is a willingness to see things others don’t notice. Every day can be a chance to get struck by something tiny you see, hear or thought, and to turn that into art.
Today I walked into my child’s school hall. She was off playing with her friends and I sat down in the dark hall to wait for the morning assembly on my own, because I was tired and didn’t feel like chatting. I shut my eyes for a minute. Then when I opened them I realised how nice the light was in there. It was pretty dark, with light peeking in though a couple of doors. So of course next thing is I am taking photos. The room had a lovely lonely look to it. I am pretty sure that no one else noticed it that day. A few minutes later the bell rang and everyone came rushing in: the light goes on, the loneliness is dispelled. But I’d had a lovely little moment in their on my own. And maybe some of the quality of that quick photo will make it into my other work.
Above: the little kids chairs always have a poignant look when they are empty.
So don’t worry about whether anyone will like you or your work because you feel you aren’t interesting enough. People enjoy different qualities in art, way beyond the cool. What makes someone an artist is not their cool factor, it’s that we notice what others don’t.