A long time ago in a distant galaxy over half a lifetime away my then girlfriend suggested that I should try and do one thing I’m good at and stick with that. I have spent the intervening years periodically mulling this idea whilst stubbornly continuing to make stuff in any form that seems appropriate. Being an illustrator was my most deliberately considered attempt at a respectable well-defined career. In fact I would recommend that careers officers dig out the illustrator leaflet for any young person with a wide range of skill sets or perhaps one who likes both words and pictures, spending time alone and working with other people. Most illustrators I knew seemed to develop a thick skin and uncompromising attitude or were happy to be what was known as “jobbing”. I was probably a very idiosyncratic version of the latter, happy to draw anything or find a witty accompaniment to the most turgid article. If there were such a thing as pioneer of Internet illustration I would count myself among them - somehow exceeding all previous metaphors for communications in cyberspace by creating hands shaking hands through computer screens (this was 1995 I’ll have you)!
This morning in my predawn haze, however, I thought I had fathomed the means to creating an edifying specialization for myself. This may not seem like much but for a long time now I have believed myself to be descended from Neanderthals who, it appears, died out due to a refusal/inability to specialize. I am the opposite of the aliens in First Men On The Moon who evolved into individual beings with one very well defined ability. Somewhat ironically the specialization my Saulian blip prescribed for me was that of writing. Writing that curse on all creative thought - developed from a need to catalogue and account. My teacher at school told me I was drunk with words so I tried to sober up and promptly failed English language (2 years early mind!). Now, I tend to think, I am never going to be a formula one writer and instead have opted for a dragster style approach, blasting somewhat unsteadily in one particular direction. This will naturally mean I crash spectacularly at times but the alternative would be travelling much more steadily but very slowly indeed or in actual fact not travelling anywhere as it is such a dull, predictable experience.
The point about writing as a specialization choice is that everything else becomes material. Don’t think I haven’t applied this interface to being an artist in general, picturing oneself swimming shark/whale like through life’s variable waters sucking in the plankton or gnawing the odd limb off. I could tell myself I am an artist wading through the soup of stuff holding a beacon to life’s hypocrisy/joy/folly/glimpses of the transcendental. And yet such a rationalisation of art is, in my view, inappropriate. Far better to take the ultimate tool in the creation of a field of signs and use that to marry the specific to the woolly (Yes that’s right I replaced universal with the word woolly as a half-baked attempt to show my cynicism is still in place and yet at the same time demonstrate through moving my eyeballs during a coma that I do have a spiritual side.) Writing is a far more rational umbrella. Magritte’s letter explaining his painting of an umbrella with a glass of water on top, “Hegel’s Holiday” was both far more engaging and revealing than the painting itself. In it he explains that the idea came from a series of doodles about how to draw a glass of water with genius. This set me thinking that often the work of art to which we ascribe vast monetary value to is actually a by-product of a more intensely tangible process. A souvenir in other words or something that allows the customer to buy into a dream. The Mona Lisa is a symbol of Leonardo’s explorations and innovations it is his unfathomable genius distilled into a heady perfume. In itself as a work of art its alright. Ditto the unsuitability of death in the mind of someone breathing or what ever it’s called.
As far as I know Magritte was never paid for his letter and therefore I can justifiably define myself as a writer even if I don’t earn money from it. Yes I know Magritte didn’t define himself as a writer but El Greco did and René was a surrealist anyway.