Sunday, January 14, 2007

I Haven’t Finished Yet …

True Story 1:

Late in 2005 I approached an Arts Centre in Surrey about the possibility of doing a show there in 2006. I knew the guy who ran it – I’d known him from way back, when he used to be a lawyer (bad omen). He was as excited as a lawyer can get about the prospect of working with me, so we arranged for me to visit and show him my work.

After some pleasant preliminaries, I put my work out around the room and talked him through the concept of the show and the different elements within it. Obviously, it was a little nerve-wracking and I felt a bit vulnerable. Fool.

He looked it all over and then asked … “Are you going to have explanatory notes to go with each piece?”


I replied that I hadn’t thought to, and asked, “why?”

He replied, “Well, people are not going to get it just by looking at it, are they?”

I said nothing out loud. I can do a great blank expression when I need to. But inside I was screaming at him …

“But it’s ART for f**k's sake … LOOKING at it is pretty much WHAT YOU DO!!!”

I packed up my pictures and left after having a pleasant lunch where we talked about anything except art. I couldn't eat much ... I was grinding my teeth and couldn't get the food in.

For that, and a number of other reasons, I didn’t show there.

True Story 2:

I had a show of work in an art space at a Community Centre in SW London. After everything had been hung, and people had arrived, I said a few words about the exhibition and encouraged them to take a look around.

From that moment on, I went deaf. Couldn't hear a thing.

What actually happened was that a deathly hush ensued as people drifted around the room, occasionally gathering together in clumps and chatting in low tones. Only one girl spoke to me … she obviously didn’t know any better. I asked her to communicate in sign language. She did, and I think it was very rude. Either that or she wanted to buy 2 pictures.

Later, after they’d all left, I stood there wondering what on earth had just happened. Did they like it or not? Did they like me or not? Were they bored? Did they just show up out of a sense of duty? To me, the evening was a desperate failure even though I sold a few works.

Later, I was chatting to someone who had been there, and explained how I felt about it (after they’d said “It went really well, didn’t it?” YOU THINK?)

What they said stunned me, but made so much sense.

“Oh, I didn’t know we were allowed to talk! I certainly didn’t think I could talk to you … you’re the artist after all!”

So What To Make Of All This:

There’s a lot of work to be done before people (in general) feel comfortable around art and artists. Before they learn to look and appreciate. Before they "get it". Before they learn to buy or not buy. Before they understand how to ‘read’ a piece of art, just the same as you read poetry or prose.

Please understand, I'm not looking for COMPLIMENTS or CRITICISM … but I would like a CONVERSATION.

My conclusion is weak, here, I know. Not full of answers or helpful hints. I’m trying to work it out. Work out what I think and how to go forward. It’s no good me being angry and upset. Or broke. As an artist I want to discover how to connect with people just as I want them to connect with me. And how to initiate and maintain a conversation.

I always read the acknowledgements in books. My guess is, that a writer's life, during the conception and development of a new work, is a solitary one ... just as it is for any artist. But there then seems to be a high degree of collaboration in getting the finished work into production and out to 'the public'. Is that true?

Maybe that’s part of my job, too. Get some collaborators. Just not lawyers.

I think that your last 2 paragraphs have summed it up. I read a post last week that moaned about the length of acknowledgements pages. I have written mine. It is long. It tells a story - just as you said.

My end product is not the same as the manuscript. My end product is still mine, because I have been lucky to have complete creative imput. This is unusual. In Searxh of Adam has now been touched by editors and designers and proof readers.

The process of writing is lonely. It is quiet. And then you want words. You want noise from the people who read your work. The collaboration has to come from support and connections.

Blogging started my conversation. The world has changed. When I began blogging and when Clare contacted me for my manuscript, I shared the experience in my blog. I made a noise. Perhaps that's where we need to start. A need to be noticed. To be heard.
I don't always understand what you are saying...thats what makes this blog worth reading! Seems to me its the same with visual concepts.They should make you... THINK! I think.
Caroline ... I too have found that blogging is a great help. It makes me think about what I think and then get it out there for others to comment on. And that helps the process no end. Otherwise, as you say, it is a lonely process. I read somewhere that an exhibition is meant to 'test your ideas'. I like that if it means it starts a conversation. Maybe publishing a book is the same?

Duncan ... I appreciate your honesty. A lot of what I write is cryptic ... a story ... that is designed to make you think. So keep trying to get your head around it! Thanks for reading and commenting.
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