[Personal Note: I received this rant in a plain envelope at the Art Taco P.O. Box. it was postmarked "Emporia, KS". I looked it up. It is a dive town in the middle of nowhere. The envelope was handmade and hand-stitched. The rant was typed, apparently on a Selectric, on Arches 10lb woven paper.]
WHY IS ART?
Why is it that art exists whether or not anyone buys it, or even sees it? Art doesn’t need your permission to exist. It doesn’t even ask the artist’s permission. It often arrives, instructs, manifests, and disappears as mysteriously as it came. It animates its creator to bring itself into being, and like mitosis, tears itself from its progenitor when it is ripe. Like a snake leaving its own skin.
Why is it that art seems to have a life and mind of its own, taking its own direction and dragging the artist behind it like a rag doll lashed to the pinions of a freight train?
Why is it that people that do art launch into it like a somnambulist tightrope walker skipping crazily across the Grand Canyon at the last ray of day? Whether or not anyone is looking? Whether or not anyone understands? Do you really think that art is created for YOU? Because of YOU? To become your “Thing”? If by chance, it does - that may be just incidental.
Whom does art serve? Is it your servant? Your pet? Is it tame? Does it dance for you? Is it there for your amusement? Does art smile for you as it sits on your credenza or graces your wall obediently?
Why is it that people are addicted, yes addicted, to collecting art? Why do people become art lovers? (That includes artists themselves, even when they trade.) You may think you collect art for cool reasons, for investment, as a signifier maybe, but the truth is , you can’t stop yourselves: you are enchanted, you are in love with that thing that won’t leave your dreams until you relent, until you take it home, where it is the possessor and you are the possessed. It is that seed that clings to your sock unawares until you find a tree growing through the top of your head. And if you think you have a cool handle on what art is, you are confident in that, you are probably an academic. You may not see that art is a tree that grows from fire.
Why is it when you finally see that painting or sculpture you have loved all your life, that you have mythologized, when you see it in the flesh, in a respectful or formal setting, when you see it iconized - you have a sadness, a knowing, that when you leave, you are leaving a piece of your flesh behind. Why is it that “in person” you sense a presence, an intelligence, an invisible machination that renders time and space obsolete?
Why is it that these artists, these creators, these artificers, seem to live on dandelion roots and air, can go for days without sleep, would rather buy paint and brushes than food,---and often do?
Is being an artist a thing chosen, or does it choose you? Is collecting art something you choose, or is it choosing you, mesmerizing you? Cannibalizing you? Have you ever known an artist or a collector to suddenly become something different, to be dispossessed? I haven’t seen art break that spell. So why is that?
Artists are not your slaves. They are slaves to one thing and one thing only: Their art.
You, sitting in your comfortable offices, in your comfortable homes, wearing the right clothes and hanging with the right people, suspended within your pensions, your paychecks, your children’s college savings fund, you, the self-domesticated animals: Look again at artists. These are your sugar substitutes, your investor sacrifices, your projected Frankensteins, the very things you might have been had you not been you who are so careful and rational: These are your Proxies.
Artists are spiritual ninjas. Karmakazies. Heroes. Enjoy your proximity with the crumbs of art. They will remind you what it might be like to live another life, one free, wild, uncompromised and uncertain.
Why is it that art seems to have a life of its own, is like a thing born, is independent, has spirit, has presence? Why can it be examined but not catalogued, catalogued but not vivisected, vivisected but not killed, killed but not eradicated? To do these things to art is to do the same to yourself and you don’t really want that.
Why is it that art invades you, makes you its host, lives there like an invisible organ, lays eggs, changes you, and then changes you again --in ways you could never imagine? --does a clean reinstall on your hard drive? --makes you want to change your hair, your name? You crawl out the other end of art because it is bigger than you, perhaps more real than you, and perhaps the thing that engulfs us all. Perhaps it is the aquarium we swim in that is connected to the sea that gives you life. Perhaps it is creating you in the process of collecting it, seeing it, thinking about it.
If you are an artist, you may have noticed that you and your art are co-creators, are covalent bonders, two in one in a state of symbiotic mutualism, instinctual. What a waste of time to do anything but create art.
What is art? Why bother to answer that question? Is it something we feel and just know by its dark and silent and always moving irresistible tendrils, like insidious woodbine? It is called into being because WE need it, because we called it? It needs no reason, no justification, no more permission than that. The artist is conduit, birth tunnel, midwife, and sperm donor. But art, like Nature, just is. It is potential, out there, waiting to be born. It IS the cornucopeia of nature, borrowed, rented, eternally in translation.
Once you have been enchanted by art, you will never again need a reason to make it, to own it, to justify it, or to explain it. It is the Heart of hearts. We may not all hear its beat, but we do share its circuitry.
Artists are possessed by art. In the bubble of their creation they create worlds, visible and invisible. They move horizontally and vertically, unlike any other profession, a Tribe of virtual virtue. Their own species even, why not? Existing in that netherworld between this and that, uniting both.
Why is art? Why are magicians? Shamans? Engineers of invisible bridges, walkers of razors, creator of veils, makers of crooked paths, the ones who live in the place while the rest of us tread the borders, on the edge of light, content with reflection, with second-hand life.
I still don’t know what art is.
I only know I can’t imagine life without it.