Back to School Soon…

The first exhibition I’ve ever had adult work in is now underway at Matchbox Gallery on Cuba Street, Wellington. It wasn’t very planned, a sort of sudden haphazard thing, a curator friend contacted some artists including myself (am I an artist already?) asking us to fill in after a cancellation. This left me trying to decide what I had that I was comfortable with people seeing as “finished” and “proper” art. Several of the projects I did last year that I liked most I gave away, and while I have been working on oil portraits throughout January/February, nothing I’ve completed has pleased me. I’m working on a painting of my friend K for her boyfriend J, starting with a verdaccio underpainting. It’s a lot of fun, self-teaching these classic oil techniques, even if I don’t use them forever. A lot of the work I’ve done has been abortive, and even when it’s quite nice I end up destroying in quiet frustration, with a sort of unhealthy conviction that I can do better if I just start again. It’s not that I don’t know how important it is to keep my failures, and understand why they’ve failed. I should be doing just that.

It’s a shame I painted over that (pre-verdaccio) one, really. I had a bit of a tantrum, while reading a David Stove essay on Victorian Idealism, and, seeing so much of the art world rubbish in it, scrawled “In the beginning was the Signifier” in big letters, with a citation to the Book of John 1.1. I nearly submitted it to the exhibition too, despite it being awful and juvenile, but thankfully pulled it out at the 11th hour. Good thing I did, as one of the artists exhibiting with me is very Christian, might have seen that as a favorable comparison between Christian/post-modern idealisms, and I might have ended up in a position where she had asked me about it. What would I say? “Oh, I was just trying to say that an idealism like, for example, Lacan’s, is as horrible and backwards as John 1.1” No. I should remind myself to be more careful.

I’m nervous about this exhibition partly because the art world just isn’t the audience I want. It’s so fetid and decayed and well… …unartistic and aloof. It’s more important than ever this year that I paint outside, and engage people who have never made the mistake of taking Deleuze and Guattari seriously as philosophers or sociologists, who wouldn’t even care to know who they were. Most people, thankfully, are usually happily engaged in a commonsense outlook that disgusts post-modernists because it marries up quite naturally to materialist, analytic philosophies – metaphysical realism, historical materialism – much more easily than to the utterly uninformed wank we face at art school – critical theory, semiotic idealism, anti-enlightenment, post colonial pseudo-academic shite. The people who walk into an art gallery on Cuba Street, though, or who are on an art gallery’s mailing list? By and large, I suspect these are exactly the people beyond reach – whose identities and careers have come to depend on the decay and ruin of the art industry, and who will only be able see my work through their narrow post-modernist lenses.

On the other hand, participating in galleries, that’s just… …how an artist operates… …how an artist labours and makes money and survives. I simply must do it, for the same reason Katherine Mansfield wrote pulpy rubbish no-one remembers to pay her bills. I dread the opening. I dread all art world openings, really. But this is what I was made to do, I don’t doubt it any more. All the swirl and churn of my young life always pushed me towards art, and it’s good that I resisted for as long as I did so that English Lit could season me a bit, but now… …now I just have to make art and do the art thing because it’s what everything and everyone has tried to prepare me for, knowing better than I did that it was what I also wanted to do.

What a mess. The worst thing will be facing Critical Studies again. No amount of reading and regurgitating real philosophers will have any impact on my tutors. I even corresponded with Alan Musgrave who used to head up the Otago Uni Philosophy Department and he sympathised and sent me some texts to help. But I doubt even that will help. There is no tactful way to tell them they’re wasting their lives and (formidable) minds rehashing undergraduate-level philosophical problems, and what would they do with that knowledge anyway? Quit a comfy career filled with symposia and praise, and similarly gratifying circle-jerks? Hardly. What I need is a talent in deceit, so that I might trick them into believing I take them seriously, but I have neither that talent, nor an even enough temper. What an utter mess.

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