The following text was written in spring of 2020 during the beigging of the Covid Pandemic. It was later edited by Stephen Ellis and published in the book Archipelago. Below is the original text, unedited.
I was once asked by a professor what three words or qualities I would want my work to embody. One of the first words I chose was authentic. I think most of us would like our work to be authentic or otherwise genuine, though the more those particular concepts are examined the more they seem ungraspable or perhaps inevitable. Everything we make is a byproduct of our nature, no matter how contrived. Just the same, we are humans that make art for humans. I’m sure it is no semantic coincidence that art, artifact, artiface, artificial, etc share etymological blood. There are many conceptions of consciousness, but nearly everyone can agree that most things aren’t conscious in the same way us humans are. I’ll never accuse a dog of being contrived, let alone a tree. Another refocusing of this idea of authentic could be through the lens of necessity or inspiration. What does it mean for something to be necessary to make? It's a romantic idea. My being is pulling me towards it! I can’t stop these bones! Van Gogh cut his ear off! Most of us have pressing issues, some of us have trauma, though a good deal of the time lately I've just held boredom and disinterest.
The same professor that asked me to pick three words to embody my work once told a story to the class of when he decided to be a painter. He said he wrote a note on how he was going to kill someone, his father if I recall correctly, and then kill himself. It was a suicide note and after writting it he tried to hide it so he painted over it. He tried to paint over it in one layer but the words kept bleeding through so he kept applying more paint and that's when he decided he wanted to be a painter.
Art can be cathartic, narcissistic, stupid, and at times, necessary. But what about the times when it's not necessary, most of the time. As I said, I’m feeling rather bored and disinterested, how do I respond to that? By what basis do I move forward? Do I work on the things I feel are good, the things i’d like to see, the things i’d like to make, the things that are important, the things I’ll learn from, the things that serve the world, the things that will impress people, the things to my taste, the things my loved ones might like, the things my mentors might like? How do I make work freely without the inspiration? Chuck Close is quoted saying
Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.
If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain,
you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process;
they come out of the work itself.
On the other hand, in a video interview Agnes Martin says she doesn't paint until she gets inspiration, but I believe her work, her process, might have something to do with clearing the way for that inspiration. My mind is far from clear. I find a lot of Agnes Martin’s writing useful at this time. When I see the efforts of essential workers, it's easy for me to question the role of an artist, but I remember her writing,“It is not in the role of an artist to worry about life — to feel responsible for creating a better world. This is a very serious distraction.” I remember that viruses are temporary, but that beauty may supersede even death. Being in the middle of life, it's so rare to have an occasion in which you can really turn your back to life, even rarer to have life demand you turn your back to it. If i’m not occupied with making art, what art might I make?