At the time of this writing I am 56-years old. I’ve been drawing and painting for most of that 56 years; I’ve been writing for creative purposes for close to 40; and I’ve been recording poetry and other sounds since 1996.
I’ve been asking myself this question since 1975, when I graduated high school and had to start figuring out what I need to do with my life. I have never wanted to be an artist. Even then I somehow knew that artists had a long hard road to financial success and very little creative freedom if they wanted to make a living of it. Primarily, I knew that I hated drawing or painting when the impetus was someone else’s direction and will: I could only do it when I needed to. I even fail when it’s my own decision to putter around but there’s nothing impelling me to create.
I have never made a living off my art and, in fact, have rarely sold anything (a few pieces for a few dollars, to family or friends, back when I was just learning to paint—1975, 1976, maybe a little later). In the spring of 1983 I had a showing of drawings at the Tweed Museum at UMD and in 1985 was a participant (and instigator, I guess) of a group exhibit of drawing at the Depot, also known as the Duluth Art Institute. In those days art fed my ego and I thought the world needed to see what I had done but I found that I could not do it on my own terms. In public galleries sexuality is generally forbidden and my style was too close to illustration for the commercial galleries. Other than that I’ve pretty much kept it to myself until I started posting my recordings on soundcloud.com in 2011.
So this really begs the question: why?
Most of all, it’s been an important question to me because the only image that could hold my attention has been the human form. More often than not, the female form. And beginning in 1983 the sexual form, after which almost all my drawings and paintings were sexually explicit. Why? Was it just a fantasy projection? Some elaborate masturbatory process? Mundane voyeurism, an excuse for looking at pornography? Was it some magical process of enhancing my virility? Was it cabin fever? Was it simply a lack of imagination, a blatant statement of what’s on the mind of the 26-year old male?
I’m sure every one of those possibilities, and more, have played a small part at some time over the decades.
It’s only now that I have no particular attachment to sexuality, as my libido fades into just another memory, that I’m finally able to see my art for what it is (or, in regard to visual art, was, since I’ve moved on to writing and recording and more overtly cerebral, or less evocatively sensual, matters), coming to the conclusion that the main reason I make things is to think them through. Without getting into the quirks of my upbringing and the split personality of our culture, almost all my art comes down to issues of human contact. It’s an art of the flesh, with the senses being an integral part of the mind (or spirit, if that’s more to your thinking). It’s all about contact and sensual awareness, all of which is electrified by the sexual drive. It’s about people touching each other. It’s about crossing personal boundaries and mentally breaking free of cultural restraints. It’s about feeling alive and being awake. It seems the only way I could process any of this is on a piece of paper: that’s where I do my thinking.
On occasion I go into autobiographical detail in my art, most often in my writing, but even then I tend to avoid realism and present it in a mythologized form. This is not to protect anyone’s feelings or anonymity, because I doubt there will ever be anyone paying attention to what I’ve made. I think getting bogged down in social reality inhibits expression and perception. The social details aren’t the things that matter. They clutter the human experience more than they illuminate it. They keep us from seeing the things that almost all of us feel, the details that unify humanity and show that on a certain level we have more in common than not (and more in common with other living beings of all species).
What I’m saying is pretty much a platitude, a cliché, at least within some social circles. I’ve had to spend most of my life coming to those platitudes for myself and I had to find them one crosshatch or brush stroke at a time. If those do not impress you as great tools for thinking, sorry, but they’re the best I’ve had.
My art and creativity have never been directed by goals. There has never been a need to get somewhere or achieve something, at least not outside the needs of the art itself, such as developing a technique. The same has been true of my life. There is experience and discovery and the slow process of learning. Something nagging at the back of consciousness until I’d pick up a pen or sit down at a keyboard to type, and the lines of graphite or the words or the cluster of sounds or whatever medium I’m working in, would begin to give shape to whatever it was buzzing in my thoughts. It might be vague enough that I have to try several times over, until some other buzz becomes louder or I simply run out of interest and energy, and even then not becoming clear to me for many years. It’s still possible that I don’t understand a thing I’ve made. The point is that I was thinking about it. Understanding, like life itself, is transient. What seems obvious one minute might be gone the next.
For me the thought itself is never direct, never more than a question that needs exploring.
I guess for me what is interesting is giving shape to those questions. I don’t need answers. If there was a time in my life when I did I can’t remember it. This might be a flaw in my character or a failing in my upbringing.
I don’t know…I find it liberating.