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.

Update (Redemption?)

I am taking a little breather right now. Friday morning, on advice, I “restored” this laptop to an earlier version, and there was an earlier incarnation of my destroyed WIP. 20k words as of 1st June. Not 52k as of the Wednesday 14th of June, but better than 25 pages of “#####” as it ended up being Wednesday evening.

I’d written down notes on Thursday—everything I could remember before my typical brain fogginess could creep in and wipe it all from my mind.

Since finding the 20k version, I’ve been typing like a demon. Notes to one side, cups of tea to the other. I’ve only been stopping for bathroom breaks, meals, and the sleep of the dead. It’s now Sunday afternoon, and my word count is 41k. I didn’t know I could type so fast! That’s 21k words in almost three days! Yes, my fingertips are numb. Yes, I’ve been backing up. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, my neck and back between my shoulder blades are killing me. No, I’m not stopping until I have my book back, although my break right now is really welcome. At this rate, by tomorrow evening or Tuesday, I should have my first draft nailed.

Screw you, Windows. You don’t take my baby away from me that easily.

So Little … For So Much

My latest 52k literary masterpiece only hours from completion has been reduced to 25 pages of “#######” because Windows had to do an update and the laptop crashed, taking my OpenOffice file with it. The OpenOffice backup folder is empty, as is the temp file folder. I can’t even find any older temp files to unerase, so there’s zero hope of recovery.
It’s–of course–my own fault for not fastidiously backing up and duplicating versions of the work every waking second of every day, because who needs to be creative when being technical is paramount? It is well and truly gone.
52k pages of joy and confidence and creative wonder, character journeys of laughter and sadness, defeat and victory, imagination and inspiration. 52k words that lifted me from depression and anxiety. 52k words that had every potential to be published and bring warmth and cheer and inspiration and excitement to readers everywhere.
I’m gutted. Well and truly gutted.
I knew I didn’t like this laptop and Windows, but this has sealed the deal for unmitigated incandescent hatred for a system insistent on automatically updating in the middle of user activity. So I have a wonderfully updated laptop. Yay. Not sure what I could do with it now. Writing on it isn’t really an option if it’s going to randomly kill files. Doorstop? That’ll work.
It’s time for brandy. Lots and lots of brandy.

Getting Away From it All

 

There’s a quite curious effect writing has had on me lately.

I’ve been busy working on the sequel to a book I wrote last year. While the first book languishes in anonymity awaiting an agent to champion it to publishers, I was so taken by the story, I decided to revisit. Rather than go over and edit it once again, I opted to expand on that little universe, and explore different dimensions. It felt good to return, to revitalise old friends and haunts. It was a good place to be, and while book two is fast becoming my favourite book to have written, I find myself being affected beyond the confines of the keyboard.

My mood is improving. My depression is easing off. I’m sleeping better. I’m brainstorming in the shower far more effectively than I have before.

There are downsides. I was so off-with-the-fairies earlier today I walked out the house without my mobile phone and Opal train ticket card. Today was my day for travelling into the city and visiting medical experts as I frequently do. As I have Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), I use the iPhone to play music which distracts me from the maddening crowds. Without my Opal card, I had to buy single tickets, which are more expensive. I was in such a muddle and with my SAD in overdrive, by the time I arrived back home again I had to fight tooth and nail to avoid having a major anxiety-led breakdown.

Thank goodness for meditation, medication and a calming cup of peppermint tea.

The thing is this world and its peoples I have created for my novel is a place I’d actually prefer to be. It’s like I’ve opened a travel catalogue in my mind, and spotted the ultimate retreat. As weird as it sounds, I’ve fallen in love with a fantasy, and I’m not even sure I want to get it out of my mind. I’m reminded of the movie Brazil (1985). All those terrible things done to poor Sam Lowry and he ends up in a cosy corner of the world … but only in his mind.

“Come back to reality!” is the cry, to which I respond: “What for?”

My time in my little universe will—of course—conclude with the conclusion of writing the story. I’m figuring since I’ve written a sequel it would make sense to write a third novel. Trilogies seem to be mandatory in literature if you’re going to write more than one about the same people. Should it go to four or five? At this stage I have no idea. My main character is an interesting person, and his ongoing development is fascinating to watch, but I’m not sure he and everything going on around him is worth expanding on.

I guess if I ever get book one out and some feedback, I’ll know where to go from there.

Meanwhile, please excuse me.

I think I’m going to spend some more time in my fantasy land.

 

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.

Bunny

The day I first saw you, all I could make out was a tiny shock of ginger fur in amongst the ferns.

You were so small, your eyes so big, your feet and little ears so dainty.

Swooping wings made you flee into the shadows, but you were always there. Over time I saw you grow. You nibbled on my marigolds and capsicum leaves. My parsley was your domain, little holes everywhere showed roots were your favourite. Sometimes you felt confident enough to sit in the sunshine, chewing on clover or nasturtiums. It was a garden of happy abundance for you.

A cockatoo or kookaburra flying in to see what there was to eat would send your little white tail bobbing into the undergrowth. You learned how to keep yourself safe.

Rabbits aren’t supposed to be around here. Sydney isn’t your proper place, and though you were born in a warren at the back of the neighbour’s property, I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both your parents were escaped pets.

You were too cute to get angry at, too sweet to want to get rid of. Your friends the black bunny and grey bunny sometimes showed up, but you, sweet ginger seemed to find my backyard home more than they ever did.

This morning, the noisy mynahs were alarmed. Nature’s guard-birds, I knew something was up. It was crows. Where there are rabbits, crows are sure to follow. Two crows in the backyard. Something was up.

I found what was left of you on the lawn under the shade of the ash tree. You were fully grown now, able to take care of yourself, flee from danger. The ginger fur scattered over the lawn and bushes told me whatever took you was particularly savage, your talent for survival and escape proving not enough for you this time.

I buried you in the garden bed close to where you were born. You weren’t supposed to be here, yet you were. As the soil covered your maimed form, my final glimpse of you was your white tail, the last I ever caught of you every time you dove for cover.

I don’t know who took you. The damage suggested a dog, not a crow. Crows clean up, rather than go in for the kill. Whatever took you did so because that’s what they do. I’m sorry it happened when I must have been asleep. If it had happened when I was awake, I would have likely stepped in to protect you.

As I wash the soil from my hands, I tell myself I know you were never supposed to have been here. That didn’t mean you deserved anything other than a life of happy plenty, though.

I’m sorry.

Good bye, little friend.