art


Galavanting is about to commence – the play wot I’m in goes a-touring soon, and the play wot I wrote gets a small outing in the midst of it all. The house wot I inhabit is looking forwards to a holiday from me, and the peeps wot I know both get respite and face-time (depending on the disguises wot they use to hide).

The gutting thing is that artsy spring has sprung in my town and festivals galore are sprouting while I’m away. I’m listening to new music from Sheelanagig (clarinetty, eastern European-style, febrile mania – “gypsy jazz” doesn’t do it justice) and saxophonist James Morton and it reminds me I’m going to miss a whole load of new writing and music stuff.

….Now, I know full well that if I wasn’t going to be away, I’d try to go but worry a tad about the prices and that might put me off doing as much as I would like. But I’d seek out the freebies and try (and fail) to press-gang chums into coming out to play, into being adventurous. Then I’d go on me impling tod anyway…!

But I wouldn’t always appreciate DOING it as much as I MISS it.  Isn’t that funny? Why is the “having” less weighty (if it’s a mediocre experience), less fulsome  than the “missing” of the same item? Why does (even small, petty) loss, subtraction give us a stronger feeling than presence, than experience?

Anyone know? Anyone have a view?

Anyway, like I say, I’ll be away. If no comments appear here, it’s ‘cos I can’t approve them – but don’t let that stop you! I’ll be back as soon as I can. Meantime, go and luxuriate in whatever you think you would miss if you couldn’t have it!

😉

LOUD MUSIC, rudely, unpolitely, SHOUTily (in this case, PJ Harvey, The Piano) exorcises a house like nothing I know.

For hours today, I was living mouse-like politely in my own hole, intensely communicating away, nibble-nibble, by email, by face, by ‘phone and by smile and then  – I stopped. But  – gah, horror – the flavour of the careful listening stayed. It sat on me, squishing me down.

I turned up the volume. Some more. More, up to ‘naughty’; more, up to ‘taking the proverbial’. And now, right now, PJ (on a repeating, monomaniacal loop, but happily between the Pixies and Placebo should I need variety) is deafening anyone within range.  I can’t quite get it loud enough, tho’.

We forget the importance of music too often, I think. In the last fifty years, we must have become more singularly-visual (since TV and latterly, computers). Music might accompany  this new visual intake, but in its own right, it must receive less attention.

But music has a power over our selves which is rivalled only by great art; and the beauty is that the tinkliest pop song can bring you to nirvana (with a capital N, if you like). A combination of notes, a sequence of chords, a variation in volume, pace, tempo and instrumentation all quicken or calm the senses, evoke moods and memories, inspire ideas – it takes us backwards, forwards, down, up and inwards.

Research shows that stroke patients recover a wider range of brain functions and are less depressed than those exposed merely to language. Einstein put his braininess down to his violin playing (he was slow at school, written off by teachers – until his mother bought him a violin). And many animal species use music in ways similar to us (humpback whales’ songs are structured much as ours, although last up to 21 hours). Seals and of course, birds, also sing – and learn songs, most importantly. For them, however, it’s always social – whereas we practice (hum, howl) alone as much as in groups.

For us, musical euphoria lives in the same part of the brain as sex and drugs, with endorphin rushes. Male birds have dopamine rushes when they sing to females (girl birds don’t sing): they enjoy it.

Get up and SING – or at least, turn up the volume (not for too long, mind you; lifelong tinnitus is too hig a price!). Beat the gloomy blues (one of the search terms that has brought people to this site in the last few weeks is ‘miserable’, sadly.) Reclaim your dopamine!

“This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.”

– DH Lawrence, Studies in Classical American Literature

Trying to create good art takes you to some uncomfortable places. It’s not like “work”, or school, where it’s usually right or not, hit or miss. It takes some serious striving, some detailed asking of personal questions, uncomfortable silences. It demands that you ignore yourself while very much being, plunging cold and hard and blindly into something that you must accept to be true without looking at it.

I know a trained designer, an art school grad, who refuses to draw, to paint, in spite of his college work being pretty fine. He believes, he tells me, that only The Excellent have the right to produce. ‘Shouldn’t all others strive?’ I ask. And surely the most talented must also strive? Something which is genuinely effortless lacks depth after a while [I had an oyster-esque reaction to Mozart for more than a decade – and still feel sick at anything in A major].

But no: he wears proudly a shimmering mantle of idiot amateur, a ritual cloak for the unquestioning and foolish worship of others’ talent. It’s not an admiration; it’s adoration. What’s my problem? I think that it doesn’t allow for humanity in art. It ignores the happy truth that nothing is flawless and nothing should be; that glory is in what is actual (“I am I”, to quote Lawrence, above). Don’t take away the excellent, for goodness’ sake: but we need weird averages, the unsettling terrible, the cringe-making bad work as well as the “bloody good attempt”s.

My friend’s is not as unusual a view as it sounds: just think of the very acceptable snobbery shown towards amateur dramatics, or retirement water-colourists. (Watch out for the sneer of the person who won’t try, where fear of failure seems to grant licence for faux superiority). Amateur art and crafts attracts such reaction in a way never suffered by other amateur past-times (OK, maybe knitting gets away with it…)

Let’s remember that there’s gold in the trying, in brave (or couldn’t-care-less) acts of self-revelation. That every Genuine Great Talent (tongue firmly in cheek for these capitalisations, in case you hadn’t guessed) has experienced profound self-doubt; that there was a moment when they were first recognised and before which they had not been. The recently deceased Beryl Cook and the very-vivid Jack Vettriano are incredibly popular, but spurned by the intelligensia. Remember that and sharpen your pencil with care (and creative intent!).

With a smile to Beryl Cook.

It is possible for one never to transgress a single law and still be a bastard. And vice versa.” – Herman Hesse

harold-lloyd.jpgTransgression, thinking about tipping yourself over the edge, surprising yourself with what you learn when you do: it’s absolutely key to keeping the brain fresh, I am convinced. The thrill of the naughty, the unknown consequences you will bring upon yourself, the reactions you’ll provoke in others. Does the thought make you feel tingly or nauseous?

This is going to look like a side-road, but it’s not. Stay with me. There’s a school of cinema-making called the Cinema of Transgression. Nick Zedd, Richard Kern and others led and lead a posse that builds on the work of Warhol and John Waters. It’s underground, 8mm and low-budget. The films are odd, and not massively sought-after (proving the point about the audience), and their manifesto is very exciting. Don’t skim it, read it for its own sake. There are no sweeties for getting to the end quickly:

We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at.

All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition.

Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves.

We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema.

We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed.

Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression.

We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.

If you read the Imp’s very first posting, you’ll get why this is sex on a stick. You can watch some of these guys’ short films here (interestingly, the first one is about an imp and Pan: if you want to see what they mean in the manifesto, stick with its 8 minutes…).

I genuinely believe that your mental health depends on transgression. It can have a detrimental effect, too, but isn’t risk a part of it? And learning self-control part of growing?

sheep.jpgWe never stop learning – it’s impossible- so why do we behave (in this British culture) as though we stop at 16, 18 or perhaps 21? The least fortunate kids are always learning (well, being told) about these kind of boundaries, about what is acceptable (interesting that you ‘learn’ that picking your nose and eating it is a social transgression long before you’re told it’s unhygienic).

For some kids, so much is couched in terms of conformity as the most important value: not in terms of loyalty, consideration, lovingness. “You can’t have those friends /go out like that…What will the neighbours think?!” Reward is given for fitting in, not for being expressive, creative, generous.

Remember what it felt like when you ‘got it wrong’? My school took us out to give old people tins of food at Harvest-time. An old blind man we visited said, “Oh, it’s so stupid to be blind.” I was nine. I said, “No it’s not.” I got told off for embarrassing everyone.

We usually learn to conform: it brings approval, advancement, popularity (especially if you’re conventionally ‘attractive’). Not conforming, and then deliberately transgressing, can be hard work when you believe in what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s lots of fun though: and if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em. I got Gothier and Gothier to get under the skin of the Insecure It Crowd at school, but the same trick was great fun when I met a new colleague by climbing out of an industrial barrel in a black wedding dress. We really clicked.

But let’s compare personal conformity with the things we admire in others – we look up to, we praise many things that transgress. It’s the sparkle of the new, the audacious, innovative, risky, bold, enterprising….And if socially accepted, they are deemed to be on the right side of the line. But isn’t this only a hop, skip and muddy splash from headstrong, offensive, scandalous, revolutionary behaviour?

billyholiday.jpgThose with the courage to act as they believe they ought, and hang the consequences, are the real heroes and we all benefit: whether it’s political leaders like Ghandi, Elizabeth I, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung Sang Su Kyi or artists like Rothko, Dali, Sappho, de Beauvoir, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, Billy Holiday….The word transgress is of course about crossing over between these two, a going-between. Perhaps it’s just about judgement.

What about us, then; am I leaving us all with some responsibility beyond self-preservation? Should I be embedding ‘Self Preservation Society’ (theme tune to The Italian Job) for us to sing along to?

I’ll leave you with one of my role models. Morticia says to Wednesday in Addams’ Family Values, “Look at all the other children, their bright little eyes, their friendly eager smiles… Help them.”

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” – Buddha

Amazing morning: after days of torpor, sleep fallumping fattily all over me, Lethe dragging me under to wallow in her depths from afternoon ’til mid-morning, and a very bizarre appetite, today’s begun with a 7am up-and-at-’em determination; with vim. Coffee and yesterday’s paper in bed were prescribed until consciousness was attained and then it was time for The Thing: a six mile run in the dreeky drizzle.

heron.jpgGorgeous! The birds were still in charge of the canal’s soundtrack; the clouds were not really weeping, more shaking the damp sleep from their eyes (perhaps with a bit of a sniffle); so few human beings about and none keen to smile or frown, not being really conscious, still taken by whatever subconscious scenes they played in the night before. My imping (not limping, thank you) stride came quickly today, half a mile sooner than usual: this is the point where you could as well be walking for all the consciousness you have of running. So then you push yourself, then lull back, push then forgetfully lull.

The better thing was that this is the first early morning run for months, since the stretch went over the four mile mark. Everything in 2008 so far has been mid-morning or mid-afternoon: a very different experience. And this morning thing really works – it’s why I’m writing this now, while I’m fresh with it. Great creative ideas for various writing projects (some very wicked and truly Imp, of which more in the future, I hope), a feeling of privileged access and insight into the route’s environment – just a peek, but special, nonetheless. Fantasies, half-anchored in reality, of the future life of the Imp’s play: who will play X character, would Y be a good director, an Imp-goading list of who will be in the first audience. Followed, not surprisingly, by resolutions and deadlines: this draft complete in days, before the next public reading on Tuesday – how fast can I commit for the third draft?

The play is definitely maturing. The first draft took three months. the-creation.jpgWhat delight, what pride, such celebration! Then we had some time apart – we were on a break, so to speak. Paying work intervened and to be honest, I neglected my honey. Thankfully, I came back. Thankfully, I now think, I went away. But what flaws I’d left it with: what a terrible lover, a terrible parent! So me and the play, we’re into some heavy nurturing, some repair, some shared, quality time. We’re helping each other – it doesn’t always do what I tell it to, but it’s often right and I am wrong. This may mean the original idea gets subsumed, but for something better.

OK, it’s calling….may your weekend be hale, hearty, full of love and smiles.

– TLI