Art is an Expression of Humanity

Art is an expression of humanity.

To be without art is to be without emotion, without feeling, without what it is to be human.

Some of the earliest surviving artefacts from human history are art. Art has solidified and coalesced spirituality and human relationship with the environment into tangible form, from rock art of the Pilbara to frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

My own journey of art started like most other infants—scrawlings on scrap paper, discovering line, colour and early structures. Unlike most children, very early on I drew what I saw, rather than what I knew. Art for me became an extension of expression and a reflection of context. I was drawing portraits of the cat, perspectives of a tree outside my bedroom window or experiments with the way afternoon sunlight reflected off a door at around the same time as I was learning how to walk. I didn’t consider this as ‘art’. I simply thought of it as a way to communicate in the same way as I was being taught how to speak or sing or body language to tell a parent something important, like I was hungry or needed a wee.

As I grew, so did my art. I discovered art books, and goggled amazed at lifelike portraits, rough sketches, sculptures in bronze, clay or marble and so many other wondrous things. My own art supplies expanded and painting became a dominant medium for me. To me, treasure wasn’t mountains of gold coins or fancy clothes. It was art.

Through my tortuous teens, art was my refuge, my solace, my love. In studying art, my eye differed to those of my fellow students—architectural lines of the Sydney Opera House or the muted tones of a late Rothko were profound to me in ways inconceivable to most others my age. I didn’t gaze upon the voluptuous curves of naked flesh in a Rubens and think ‘porn’. Instead I thought in terms of light and shade, flesh tones and body language, sensuous vulnerability, high drama and story created at a time before movies and television. I could also see proportion, composition and recognise the golden ratio.

As much as art was a part of me, from time to time there were shades to drive it into inaccessible corners of my being. Subject to appalling emotional abuse from an early age, depression would frequently stultify my art, and I would endure periods of blank oblivion. Much of what I had created was destroyed, relegated to the bin to make way for more important things, according to my elders and betters. Of course, art was never to be a career, never anything other than an indulgence that called into question everything from my intellect to my sexuality. That abuse also created a negativity inside myself which persists to this day. It’s not a voice to criticise what I create, instead be critical as to why. Even on medication it persists and with it the inevitable blank oblivion. Sometimes words will come and I will write (I consider writing as simply another art form), but canvases and pages remain idle, ink in its well, paints in their tubes, bronze as chilled ingots of copper and tin. Inspiration abounds, and sometimes the motivation rises to set up easel and commence, but my system is so sensitive all it takes is a single critical word and my art comes to a halt. All too frequently, that all-important word comes from within.

Yes. I am my own worst enemy.

I persist with professional therapy. There is so much damage to repair I may not live long enough to be entirely free of it (lesson: be kind and supportive with your children, respect their learning and never be jealous of their accomplishments and possessions. Also, never neglect to give them cuddles). The constant challenges of my mental health drive me to want to draw or paint for nothing other than therapeutic value, but for the last year every single attempt has ended in abject failure.

Recently I witnessed an art exhibition which left me utterly frustrated. While many of the works had their own particular delight and had been crafted skilfully, so much of it was also banal, flawed, dull or uninspired. I questioned myself on why my own work languishes while so much of this is not only exhibited but sold for quite considerable sums. “Because you’re a loser who doesn’t deserve success” comes the voice. “Stop being so egotistical. As if anyone would like what you create,” it persists, in spite of having sold works in the past. “Stop bothering other people with your lacklustre talent and small-mindedness. Nobody’s interested and nobody cares,” and so on.

I have yet to find the strength to not only pick up a brush but apply paint to canvas. I have done it before, but while that anti-ego voice fills my head with self loathing, cynicism, sarcasm and general negativity, I have yet to do it again. Even words fail to flow, although sometimes a tiny ray of sunshine will penetrate the gloom to illuminate the darkness and give rise to something. Today, it’s this essay.

Until I can return to my art properly however, to me I remain far less than what it is to be human.

Not Worth It

For the first time in a very long time, this evening I experienced a fleeting sensation of wanting to show off. Not be-centre-of-attention-at-a-party showing off, or streaking-down-the-main-road showing off. This was more celebrating a sense of accomplishment in some work I’d done and wishing to express myself to more than just my pillow like I typically do every time I go to bed of an evening.

Don’t panic—the sensation quickly passed, and I quit the graphics program I was firing up to prepare a panel I could share on social media.

I asked myself: Why bother? Who cares?

The response, swift as ever: don’t bother—nobody cares.

Right there’s the heart of the matter for me.

Self abuse.

I was taught to abuse myself very early in life. I was made to understand I wasn’t as important or significant as … well … literally anyone else. While the rest of the family ate the meat, I was left with the gristle. I was given the dregs of the bottle, the endcrust of the loaf, the cheap clothes a decade or two out of fashion. While my schoolmates scooted off to various exotic destinations during school holidays, I walked up and down our local street by myself (the only other kids around were our neighbours, and they were frickin’ nuts … and cruel).

I told myself I was lonely because I didn’t deserve friends. Everything bad to happen was my fault. I told myself I wasn’t supposed to laugh or be happy because something bad would always come my way to steal the happiness away. Soon enough that really happened—I became a morose child, an “Eeyore” as I was angrily accused of being on more than one occasion.

What eight year old speaks to their inner self like that?

I did. Constantly.

Now, forty years later, it’s so ingrained I can’t fight it.

I’m still not worthy.

I still don’t matter.

I still don’t count.

I will never deserve success/friends/money/happiness … whatever.

Despite this, I still make things. I create. I have the artistic eye, the appreciation for words, so I write and I create art. Beautiful things speak to me. Proportion, symmetry, the golden ratio, compositional balance, the language of colour and light are all close travelling companions on my artistic journey. I write stories of engaging characters in imaginative settings and intriguing plots, dabbling with words as I would a paintbrush on canvas, to create visions of loveliness, an escape or counter to my real-life predicament. Creativity is my passion but it is also my refuge.

I seldom share my work, and only then it’s the stuff I mean to sell. I need to sell because I need money to subsist. Not for me the extravagance of financial success—I dwell below the poverty line, my previous business achievements collapsing around me in a haze of self destruction and complete breakdown. My life is now a ruin, which is only right and proper.

Not for me any business success.

Now I am reduced to a near nothing, creating art and writing books because that’s all I have left within me to do. As is right and proper, all I have ended up with is unsold art and rejection notices for my books being submitted for agent consideration.

I suffer crippling depression quite frequently now. Anxiety, despair, fatigue all make everything slow going. Where once I was keen to achieve great things rapidly, now anything takes an age.

Before? I was a liar. I assured people I was all right, when nothing could be further from the truth, although in fairness, nobody ever asked me if I was indeed all right. Nobody ever came up to me and asked “Are you okay?”. I chose to spare everyone the ugliness of my predicament, because ugliness was my enemy. I only wanted beautiful things, to lead a beautiful life, to put the ugly nastiness and savagery of my past behind me.

Not to be.

After the breakdown, all was ugly nastiness and savagery. My creativity was a beam of light in that darkness, but frequently there are times when it falters and I fall into the abyss.

This is far more than mere writer’s block.

Regrets—I have more than a few, and I revisit them all the freaking time.

So imagine how shocking, how audacious, how bold it was to think that maybe someone out there might like to see something I’d achieved. Of course my normal inner voice didn’t couch it in those terms. No, to the voice it wasn’t audacious, it was arrogant. It wasn’t bold, it was the height of presumptuous selfishness.

So I put the work away with all the others to maintain my humility, to secure my obsequious regret at contemplating the demand for someone to spend their valuable time considering something I’ve made.

I can’t take compliments. I can’t accept support. Cheer squads are an abomination in my world of sensibilities. People mean well, and I understand where they’re coming from, but to me it’s genuinely painful. People want to help. Many people love to help, but I’m so far down this bumpy road, I can’t take it. I can’t accept it. Just thinking about it makes me extremely uncomfortable. The only way I can move forward is to change the frame of reference, and treat everything I do as a way to make money.

Money doesn’t speak to me.

Money doesn’t worry me.

Money doesn’t make my flesh creep.

If I can sell something I’ve made, it means not that someone likes something enough to want to buy it, rather I’ve got something they want and they can have it in return for money.

It might not be the truth, but it’s a system that works for me and my curious little problem.

I write as therapy. Writing this essay wasn’t meant as anything more than therapy, but I’m posting where I am in the faint hope maybe someone out there can gain something from it—perhaps a lesson that can help them grow into something more beautiful.

As my vision fades, my energies wane and the darkness descends, it’s all I have left.

Echoes of the Past

It was a tiny scrap of disintegrating paper.

I found it at the bottom of a shoebox previously used to hold a collection of worthless crystals and a couple of fossils. A scrap I had completely forgotten about. The shoebox had been wet. The mould-ridden bottom was ready to fall out, scattering minerals and prehistoric beasties everywhere. A plastic tub for them; recycling bin for the shoebox.

The scrap was rotten, covered in mould spots, but there were the words. Words in my handwriting, the blue ballpoint pen ink indistinct but present. Words I had put to paper as I thought about song lyrics. A song I would never write, lyrics I would never finish, an ode to one now long gone. Yet … the words lived on, forgotten at the bottom of a rotting shoebox.

Until now.

Sapphire eyes dancing,

Show us your world.

Spin round, glancing,

Bright hair all curled.

So full is my heart,

Stay close to me a while.

Couldn’t bear to be apart,

Sunshine in your smile.

 

The rest, alas, illegible. The scrap has now joined the shoebox in the bin. I don’t want to risk getting sick from any of the moulds and fungus growing on it.

As for the lyrics. Cheesy? Yup.

Not for me the destiny of Lennon-McCartney.

Still, there’s something equally unsettling and moving about rediscovering unexpressed passions from years long gone. It was the beginning of the nineties—a time of excitement and optimism and bright colours and young love. Such a contrast to present day with all its maudlin drab narcissism.

I didn’t think of myself as a poet back then. I still don’t, but perhaps back then there was enough stirring me to consider poetry as the medium of choice for expressing my romantic side.

These days I’m lucky if I can rhyme ‘orange’ with ‘forage’. I’m not too worried. Rhyming lines are only one form of poetry.

Now if only I could find a new passion to wax lyrical about…

Whither Writing? Or is that Wither Writing?

The autotelic creator is someone who creates for the sake of creation. The painter who paints without regard for selling. The musician who performs even if there is no-one to listen. The writing who can’t help but pour out their heart and mind onto a page that could remain unread.

Even an autotelic creator needs to eat, so sometimes they dip their oar into the mainstream and turn their hand to something they feel the “market” might like. For many, it’s not a place they either like or feel any sense of belonging, but still respect as a necessary evil so their own existence may be perpetuated or more comprehensive resources afforded.

A fortunate autotelic creator is one whose creations align closely with the commercially attractive. Tragically, there are also those who lived their whole lives creating wonders, only to be “discovered” long after their death (e.g. Vincent van Gogh). The worst are the ones who are never discovered—their anonymity in life continuing after their death.

Now in our own time, the accessibility and ‘democratisation’ of information has arisen, providing new curses (e.g. ‘alternative facts’) as well as new blessings (e.g. online art galleries, self-publishing eBooks and YouTube). Never before have creatives had access to potential audiences as they do now.

The flipside to that accessibility is economics. Never before has there been pressure applied to authors, musicians and artists to provide their creativity free of charge. The perpetual argument is to provide something for free is to raise awareness of that creative amongst a potential market.

Long ago I was told in no uncertain terms to never give anything away, as to do so was to undervalue my own work. A small sample was fine, but an entire work? Never!

I’ve adhered to that principle since, knowing full well there are numerous individuals out there who consider anything other than free as too expensive, and the world owes them a living. They’re welcome to live in that fantasy land if it makes them happy, but going to a restaurant and asking for a free meal is not only a slap in the face for the individuals responsible for cultivating, harvesting, refining, transporting ingredients, and then all the actual preparation, it’s just plain rude. Why should a work of art or writing or music be any different?

Again—free samples are fine, but not an entire work.

I write and I create art. Music and I parted ways a long time ago, but I still listen to it with a passion that frequently rivals my passion for art and writing. I will continue to write and create art. There have been instances where I have been paid by a person for my art and my writing. There is hope. I haven’t earned nearly enough to make a living off that creativity, but I continue my efforts in the hope that goal may one day be realised.

Perhaps my greatest fear is one day my energies will decline and I can no long write or draw or paint. I’ve already gone through horrific dry-spells thanks to depression, anxiety and a raft full of medical problems, and it has only been through tremendous effort I’ve been able to emerge through the other side of those tribulations. The old saying “use it or lose it” only makes me anxious about every time my hand is stayed—I fear the withering effect of demoralisation. Regardless, I will continue to create. My hope is what I create continues to be worth creating.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

I have to deal with mental health issues. Amongst a panoply of challenging aberrations is depression and anxiety. It’s really no fun and frankly I don’t recommend it to anyone.

I am receiving professional treatment, which is a Good Thing. Part of that treatment involves pharmaceuticals, which I dutifully take every day. My current run requires two tablets which are supposed to relieve me of depression and alleviate my anxiety. Instead, my depression and anxiety are as rampant as ever, and my writing ability has vanished. More specifically my ability to write fiction has vanished, my medication genuinely obstructing any capability to imagine.

I don’t dream. I sleep (fitfully, partly because of another condition that periodically wakes me), the occasional nightmare the only visions of the night, but imaginings and wonder, my escapes from the humdrum despair of the here and now, elude me.

Yesterday I was able to get my health care professional to change my meds, but this isn’t something that just happens straight away. I have to go with a week on half my current dose, and then another week on quarter, and then I’m able to transition. Whatever comes next I welcome – provided my imagination returns. I have three unfinished novels to get on with, four if I include a sequel to one book currently under publisher consideration, and I’d really like to get on with them. I can’t write, I can’t draw or paint or create imaginatively, and it is as frustrating as it comes.

I beta read. I edit. I consider other people’s projects dispassionately, disconnected, like an unfeeling machine, treating the syntax of words intellectually rather than emotionally. Maybe it has made me a better editor, maybe not. I construct what I do write methodically, re-typing everything because another symptom of my meds is a ghastly lack of coordination, even worse than my usual Asperger’s-driven clumsiness, rendering my first pass close to unintelligible.

After my consultation however I feel a glimmer of hope, a promise of improvement, a return to passion and fire, soaring visions and stories aplenty to pour onto page after successive page. Just that prospect is enough to dampen the temperament of my depression for a time.

Hope itself can indeed be a powerful medicine.

What Makes Me Write?

 

What makes me want to write?

I’m creative. It’s what I do. When I’m not writing (like at the moment), I make art. I’m trying to sell my art but not having much luck since everybody’s tending to hang onto their cash in the lead-up to US elections and the (bleurgh) “holiday” season.

I started writing when I was ten. I finished my first novel when I was eleven, and had a dozen novels completed by the time I was eighteen. My parents, being the generous, intelligent and far-sighted angels they were (*cough*) threw them all away and told me to go and find a proper career. Later, subsequent writings were lost after water damage in a house flood, but I didn’t give up. Hard drives dying and taking works with them didn’t make me give up. I just kept writing. I wrote poetry, novels, short stories, movie scripts, you name it.

I wrote to let it out, I wrote to vent, I wrote for therapy, I wrote to invent friends I wanted for my lonely self, I wrote to tell stories. In uni I wrote for money to buy food and pay rent while I studied.

These days I write because I need to write. At least, I’d be writing if my meds let me. Since I can’t seem to string two words of a work of fiction together at the moment, I’m drawing and calligraphing and painting and selling my writing and my art, spending an inordinate amount of time on social media hustling away as best as I can.

Maybe I’ll earn something, maybe I won’t, but I’m a bit of an autotelic creator, so for the most part it’s not really worrying me. When the meds let me, I’ll just keep on writing.