April 9, 2012

To Be Is the Task of the Artist

Over the weekend, the wonderful Yareah Magazine posted a collage of mine.  The theme of their next issue is love. Someone’s been tagging our downtown all over with the word “LOVER” and I’ve been collecting photos of them.  It’s all the same graffiti artist ~ you can tell by the lettering.  I’ve been meaning to make a collage of them, and this was the perfect opportunity.

It was so fun!  I took all the best images into Photoshop and messed around with them.  I decided which one should be the backdrop and then resized and enhanced them all.  I moved them around, trying to achieve a balance.  Once I did, though, they were just a bunch of square photos on the page ~ not very exciting ~ so I played some more with them.  I let some of the background come through some, I clipped some, I rotated some.  It was better then, but it still didn’t feel unified.  So I experimented with a whole bunch of filters.  I ended up with 21 final versions, four of which I really liked. Those are the ones Yareah posted.

And then the lovely Isabel del Rio, art editor, wrote a great piece talking about the nature of art and photography.  I thought I might elaborate on some of her thoughts over the next couple of days.

Isabel writes,
‘To be’, I think this is the task of an artist.
‘What drives us to be’, it is my definition of art.

I love this.  The artist must live, must live fully, in order to be an artist.  And because they must take this raw material as their media, they must observe closely and think long and hard about what they are observing.  Their whole lives become the raw stuff of their art.  This of course applies to all forms of art.

I love how this phrasing ~ “to be is the task of the artist” ~ references the long history of art and makes the artist part of a long tradition. What first comes to mind, of course, is Hamlet’s soliloquy. 

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

Hamlet is eloquently wondering whether it’s better to die, to commit suicide, than to live.  This metaphor extends so easily to the creation of art.  Many if not most artists have anxiety approaching their artwork, and they are ambivalent about it for many reasons. It’s painful to access those parts of yourself that you need to in order to create the best art.  It’s damn hard work too.  And the world really doesn’t want you to and actively works against you doing your art; why not give in to the demands of the world?  It’s much easier to just give in.  But it is also the reason that artists live, they feel.  It is their main purpose in life.  Not only that, but when creating art, the world receeds, becomes this black and white shadow, while you feel that what you’re creating is more alive and you are more alive than you’ve ever been.  Ambivalence, in the true sense of the word, as in love and hate.

So Hamlet’s going back and forth is what the artist feels.  Do I live?  Do I create art and go through all that that entails?  Or do I die?  Do I sink back into the indistinguishable multitude?

To be.  Some argue that art is a representation and a derivation of life, and of course it is, but in another sense, it is the realization of our higher self, all that we hope and dream and strive for, the embodiment of our best and worst selves.  Indeed, it is what drives us to be ~ both in the sense that artists live to create their art but also it is a representation of those most human of drives and desires, high and low.

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