Old stories of the Art World

The more I learn the more I’m realising that the confusion I’ve felt about art is not mine alone but a clash of different stories and ideas, a shipwreck of notions of what it means to be an artist, and of what art is. I find myself not liberated by the breaking apart of all these ideas, but confused by them, drowning in the foam and flotsam.

I’m loving art history lessons. I didn’t expect to, but I find them thrilling. I feel like I’m trekking through wild country with a good guide. I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. I’m completely out of my depth. But I’m exhilarated, soaking it all up, starting to see the patterns and frameworks that move beneath the surface like the skeleton of a strange new creature.

Something strange happens in the classes. I find the blocks in my head ease. Something in me lets out a breath. I can imagine a place for myself in this vast, complex, and colourful landscape. Most of the time I can’t. I feel small and stuck in a cage I don’t understand and can’t escape. A lot of my art happens only in the driving of great need. (that’s not true of everyone in my system) I hope to change this. Experiences of freedom and belonging in this world, however brief, are hopeful.

We live (and try to create art) in a post modern landscape littered with many broken stories about the people of art and the place of artists. I experience intense ambivalence about art. I love and hate it. I find it essential to my life, but also vapid and pretentious. I love and admire some creative people, and loathe and detest others. My own stories about my place in the world as an artist don’t make sense. They’re broken fragments of older stories, and they both link me to a meaningful history, and cut me off from a coherent future.

Today in class we discussed art in the context of the sacred, of making holy objects. Our lecturer drew parallels between the language used to describe artists, and that used to describe shaman, people who cross the thresholds between the domestic and the sacred world. It’s one more story of art, flightless and yet with an old power in it.

I think of wrist poems that save my blood, and descending into my own underworld with body paint during psychosis. This is not who I am, but it is part of my story. I’m learning more about the ghosts and relics of the art world and in this dark confusion I see a rich source of new stories and understandings. I’ll find a way out of the cages in my mind. I’ll tell a new story, weave a new vessel to travel in.

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