Post Conflict Man

Hmmmm, some days it’s harder to write than others, and to know what you are going to write. In an earlier post I described myself as a ‘morning person’ and so, today, it’s a bit odd to find myself, at the end of the day, starting to write my slightly overdue Blog post.

To be honest, it’s unusually busy in me-land. It’s the heart if the busiest term of the academic year, and, among many other jobs, I actually have three seminars on my hand in recent weeks. All very exciting, all very demanding, all very exhausting.

Luckily, a lonnnng time ago, when I first started teaching, I swore never to see my teaching, writing, music-ing and art-ing (and living) roles as being in any kind of conflict. Yes, sometimes, like anyone, you will hear me curse the clash of this or that, or the way that this might compromise that.

But ultimately, and most philosophically it seems to me, you have to see your life as a whole, to see life and the world holistically and understand the way that, un the long run (as they say) everything is connected, part of the same, and therefore not really in conflict. You learn of course, that your impatience and frustration usually come to look like a negative waste of energy and breath once a little more water flowed under the bridge.

Thus, what I teach, I also write, and I have even come to write about popular music of late, which helps me with the potential culture clash between my academic work, Fine art and passion for writing, singing and listening to popular music.

This idea is worth staying with a little longer I think, as, after all, it’s conflict per se that ruins so much of life on this earth and the behaviour of those human beings, who are, of course capable of so many magnificent deeds as well as the most monstrous imaginable.

Searching out the ‘conflict gene’ or becoming attuned to those triggers and moments in which conflict is either perceived or actually arises, becomes a crucial component of every persona and every community.

Sometimes, it’s true, you can’t prioritise 2-3 things you want or feel you need to do, and yet, if you can just resist being anxious about it then you can make the very time and space in which, ultimately, everything gets done – not done in the way you necessarily envisaged it, but (much better) in ways you could not have foreseen it all getting done.

This, my friends, is called leaving some things to others, to time, to the gods, to forces and wills other than your own to make sense of you, your life and your world. It really is NOT all about you, and, we might even dare to assert that there is no such thing as a conflict in the material universe, but only ever in someone’s anxious and impatient and over-wilful and self-centred mind.

Good evening!


‘Poetry’ ?

I have three references for you, which I won’t present academically here, but, in the nature of my blog, quite spontaneously and shaped by memory as much as by any rigorous approach to academic research and writing.

What I want to write, briefly, about, is the subject of poetry – yes, a huge subject for a little Sunday Blog (and a little Sunday Blogger).

Poetry is on my mind this week, partly because I made a new musical discovery in the work of the singer and songwriter Richard Dawson. He is a British artist with a big following but someone I only encountered in the past few weeks.

Dawson writes what I might call unflinching realism, in songs that depict the grim realities of 21st century life in Tory-ruled austerity Britain. Hence, we find songs about employees at benefit centers who hate their jobs and decide to give them up, or songs about people changing jobs, taking ‘Beta Blockers’ and starting to jog as ways of defeating anxiety (see, for example, his songs ‘Jogging’ and ‘Two Halves’ here on YouTube).

There is so much more that I could share here by way of example, but simply recommend checking out Dawson’s latest album ‘2020’ or snippets, clips and reviews online, to get some idea of what interests me.

I was also referred, by someone who has been a fan of Dawson’s for years, back to an amazing song (The Vile Stuff) and its video that seems to depict Halloween on a Tyneside High Street. (

But it’s not just the content of Dawson’s ‘poetry’ that interests me, it’s the way that he achieves what I would call ‘poetry’ precisely by aiming for what we might think of as the least ‘poetic’ of subjects, and, furthermore, then addressing them – in terms of rhyme, rhythm, and delivery – in the most unpoetic of ways.

i.e. Dawson’s voice is unmusical (Bob Dylan, Robert Wyatt,  Leonard Cohen and other greats have ben accused of similar), somewhat tuneless, and not only does he avoid the comforts of rhyme, he delivers his lines in the most flat-footed manner possible, so that you are not sure where or when they are going to end. They sound more like statements someone might make when waiting for a skeletally privatised bus service than anything inspired by a comelier muse.

And yet this is precisely how Dawson seems to me to achieve the poetry of 21st century Britain, in a way that, once you ‘get it’, seems unequivocal and ineradicable. To me, it is an amazing artistic achievement.

Now, without wanting to exhaust your patience or abuse your time I would also recommend extending this theme by checking out the two further references I mentioned at the start (above). One is the (2010) film ‘Poetry’ by director Lee Chang Dong (trailer

Here, a woman of retirement age, doing cleaning and caring work for a living, embarks on a part-time poetry course out of curiosity and a sense of self-affirmation. The film gently lampoons her teacher, who, while keen to appear modern and thus to avoid Romantic cliché, nevertheless teaches the students his own brand of orthodoxy, whch involves a profound appreciation of the beauty to be gleaned from everyday events and ordinary things.

However, all the while, a political subplot to the film is unfolding, which turns out to be a feminist parable about a patriarchal, bullying and corrupt modern society. Ultimately our heroine discovers that true ‘poetry’ is found, not so much in beauty and inspiration but in responding to the great and dirty difficulties of life and society, and her poem only appears at the very end of the film, read in the ghostly voice of a bullied teenage girl who was driven to take her own life.

The result is a fantastically sophisticated and artful lesson in aesthetics and politics, and their crucial fusion in any significant work of art. The film itself ultimately becomes an example of the very ‘poetry’ it espouses, ‘moving’ us in ways that are as ethical as they are aesthetic-al.

Finally (and again I apologise for making demands on your valuable time and capacity for attention), this theme brought back to mind the famous, or notorious ‘Preface’ to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poetry collection ‘Lyrical Ballads’ (1798 – 1802). These poems are often said to inaugurate the modern Romantic movement in poetry, and, while today we might associate all of these names and terms with a lofty, inspired, rural vision it is surprising to find, both in the collection and the Preface and another appendix titled Poetic Diction, allusions to poverty, mental illness, disability, a homeless woman etc.

Furthermore, the Preface itself (not an essential aspect of every poetry collection) was, reputedly, included by the authors to give readers a ‘way in’ to appreciating the poems that followed, precisely because they were almost unrecognisable as poetry to their contemporary audience. (The Preface can now be seen retrospectively as a –  or perhaps the first-  modern manifesto, a text which self-legitimises a radically innovative and modernised art form and art movement).

The Preface was necessitated by the fact that ‘Lyrical Ballads’ were not only full of ‘modern’, poor, discomforting, ungainly subjects, but they were also written a far more ‘down to earth’ style of English that might have shocked readers by approximating everyday speech.

Hopefully you can see how this arcs back to the work of Richard Dawson, who might therefore be described as a latter-day Wordsworth. But the argument could also apply to Punk, to Rap, and to other forms of an expanded notion of modern poetry in which the criteria for validity is an insistence on a certain contemporaneity that most of all must keeps the ear of the ear of the listener or eye of the reader ever alert, as one is in an engaged conversation, while alays unable to predict (by means of any dogma, orthodoxy, habit, or cliché of poery) how any line is going to end, what we might find there, or how it is going to relate, both formally, or in terms of content, to that which preceded it or which follows it.




Artists’ Self-Publishing, a Legitimate 21st Century Industry

This week, myself and my colleagues made some progress towards a new book, something quite different to the other books that I have written and that we have designed, produced and disseminated together – i.e. with my partner, the artist Bada Song, and various collaborators (editors, designers, illustrators and typographers).

It’s always a surprisingly extended and difficult creative process, but one that I am passionate about, especially that moment when we finally have the edition ready to launch and distribute.

I have always written a lot but I didn’t get around to serious book-writing and book-making until a few years ago. I have an archive of numerous, much older, folds and pamphlets and binds and booklets, but it was by working with Bada that together we came to make some more substantial and considered books.

One thing that prompted me to make books was the fact that I was burning off decades of ideas in lectures and other forms of writing and teaching, and the book form offered a way of consolidating, capturing, recording and drawing attention to all of that activity.

But somehow, I always knew that I wanted to be involved in every aspect of the process. This was primarily because I came to writing through the Fine Art studio and hence always considered writing as a material practice (after years of consideration, writing had become my studio practice of choice), a material prcactice in which the size, proportions, tone, texture, thickness and weight of a page, the choice of font, the kind of binding, etc.  all undeniably influence any message or meaning that the words might want to communicate to the reader. All of this adds up to considering every aspect of a book, holisticaly, imaginatively, inventively, critically, just as one would consider any other work of art.

As now much of my practice and writing emerges in dialogue with a university, I first  looked at publications made by academics, and at the output of academic publishers. But I was quite often disappointed and even dismayed at the relative carelessness that I could see going into books which, despite being written by artists or art researchers, submitted their texts to a harsh economic rationale which, I felt, sometimes appeared to ‘cheapen’ or diminish the ideas, and al of the legacy of passionate periods of research that the books represented. Basically, I felt that beautiful art and ideas, and the beauty of committing a life to art andideas, deserved beautiful books.

I also noted that books produced (proably under the guise of strict accountancy which was not overly concerned with aesthetics) by ‘big’ publishers, could age badly. And sometimes I found that a book form a top-level published could nevertheless featur heinous errors that seemed to point to poor or rushed editing and proof reading (perhaps part of a process of making books to complex corporate deadlines).

Many books form major publishers were of course are excellent too, but the negative examples confirmed to me that when I made a book I wanted to be involved in every aspect of its content and form. I wanted to have a say in every aspect of its production.

The result has been an amazing experience, and I can now write towards a new book, anticipating every creative dimension of it, from choosing the font, to the paper, to the binding and even what will happen at the launch event, which, we soon found, can feature all kinds of exciting contributions and contributors responding to the book’s theme (by contrast, I have been to launches of books by major publishers which are far more modest affairs).

As well as enjoying this near-autonomous freedom and immersion in the entire process, myself and my partner, and our collaborators, have, to some extent also ‘aped’ big publishers, in aiming for the same level of editorial standards that seems to set big publishers up as ‘legitimating’ institutions. I believe that myself and the other experts with whom I work, are qualified and experienced enough (as experienced artists, writers, designers, some of us with doctorates etc.) to uphold and attain those same standards.

I mention this because, occasionally I still sometimes hear people refer to our books (or refer to such books in my presence); i.e. books which can be categorised as ‘artists’ self-publishing’, even though they may be a volume of essays of cultural theory, in a slightly disparaging way, i.e. as if assuming that our books aspired to, but fell short of publication by a ‘big’ established (and therefore legitimating) major publisher. Hopefully, the above, and what follows explains that this was NEVER our intention.

I like to think that, tiny as our own imprint (named ‘eeodo’) is, it is in some way, ultimately in competition with those big publishers, not so much differing in kind but rather differeing in scale.

The words ‘vanity publishing’ once meant something disparaging, prior to the age of the internet and the digital realm, but you rarely hear those words today, because, I think, the digital age has blurred lines between all previously ‘big’ and ‘small’ cultural enterprises, between amateur and professional, mega and micro, democratising all kinds of modern media and representation in ways that have troubled the old structures (the newspaper industry and the brewing industry are prime examples, as are various forms of music production etc).

Today, we are all our own publishers, broadcasters, creatives, critics, designers, authors etc., of varying scale and ambition, and while the old ‘big’ media variously adapt and/or stand their ground, they are clearly in dialogue with, and sometimes at war with, myriad new (and in many cases unprecedented) micro-industries, micro-brands and micro-producers.

So, there are several very good reasons why my own, and our own ideas are not appearing in the pages of books produced by ‘big’ and ‘academic’ publishers.

As well as those reasons listed above, I have also experienced and heard horror stories about the immense length of time, and unwelcome editorial impositions, made by such organisations that personally, I might find  –  and despite my professional appreciation of the editorial role – just too frustrating and de-motivating. We, of course, have complete control over the timing of our design, production, launch etc.

As I have already said, many of the ‘big’ publishers do produce beautifully designed, meticulously and creatively andprofessionally edited, and comprehensively distributed (something we cannot do) and well publicised books, and I would like to experience a successful relationship with one of the big publishers one day. But for now, and for the point of this post, I feel badly misinterpreted when or if people see my books or our books them as ‘mere’ self, or vanity publishing; or when they regard our books as a poor second-best to what they perceive to be more ‘real’,  ‘proper’, or legitimate’ forms of publishing and publisher.

Rather, I believe myself and my colleagues are making truly 21st century books, books that are legitimate and perhaps self-legitimating; that hold up to critical and academic scrutiny, but which are also works of art in which every aspect of their design has been carefully discussed and considered.

They are made to last and to endure, both in terms of their content and their form. And, most of all, they are labours of love, with the joy in making and disseminating them, pervading every page, every word, every image and every stitch.

Finally, it also strikes me that the ‘big’ publisher, with its sense of a legitimating authority (which is not God-given, but derived, in part, merely from its size) is, like every other cultural phenomenon, subject to historical, technolgical and cultural change. And thus the age of the ‘big’ publisher (which of course little ‘eeodo’ may one day yet become) is surely a temporary, modern condition, one which was preceded by, and may be superceded by another, different age, in which books were and will be made more in the way and the spirit in which ‘eeodo‘ are  making our books, and my own books today.


After a week in which I conducted a two 2-hour sessions, during which I did most of the speaking, and both of which were based on my own writing and research – expanding out into, and expanded by the writers, artists and other forms of research that inform and inspire my own research and writing – it seems worthwhile to reflect on the complex relationship between writing, thinking, speaking and reading.

In my last two posts I talked briefly about the way in which we find ourselves writing for the voice, but that is only a variant on writing for the page perhaps. What is also apparent here is that when we are writing we are unavoidably writing ‘for’ i.e. writing has a reason (‘for’ which we are writing), but writing is also an implicit address, a comunication. It always has an implied, imagined or assumed audience (‘for’ whom we are writing).

And this, despte the fact, that we write, or tend to write alone, marking out on paper or screen, one side of a conversation, writing to an empty room or an empty page that doesn’t seem to respond.

And yet, as we write, we often correct, change, rephrase, just as we might do in a live conversation, and this seems to imply that we know, or imagine we know, someone, or the kind of someone to and for whom we are writing.

It may also mean that writing and speaking are not tolerably distinguishable. Like so many caetgorised objects, events and activities, they in fact exist ‘one in the other’ and occupy a liminal space between any would-be strict or definite categorisation.

As we write, and as we speak, our thoughts are not simply translated or copied from immaterial pulses into words, no, something more reciprocal is always occuring. The acts of writing and speaking also form our thoughts and inform our thoughts as we speak and as we write.

Thus, though we may conduct a live conversation with other people, or write our ideas in apparent isolation, we are yet also and always involved in a ‘conversation’ between reading, writing, thinking and speaking temselves.
But is there any single word for this complex and conjoined activity?
Surprisingly, none comes to mind.

As for reading, it may at first appear to be the ‘other side’ of writing’s conversation, in which we have become the imagined listener, the audience, the respondent that the writer had somewhere in mind when they wrote. But again, reading is far more than that, as we clearly read in many different ways as well, crucially, in subjective ways.

The act of reading, as well as being a kind of decoding of symbols is, often and also, a constant critical engagement, a series of agreements and disagrements or ambivalent responses to the ideas a text transmits, and to the way in which it is written.

Whether I lecture or conduct a seminar, write or read a lecture, or a book, I seem to be involved in a, or one, or the same field of ovelapping and interelated activities (writing, speaking, reading and thinking) for which we have not yet found a name, and never any singular or distinct activity.

For many, this ‘field’ seems demanding, taxing, even tiresome, but it is of course -for myself and many others of course – also a source of excitement, pleasure, a creative and constructive field, with all the challenges and rewards asssociated with more ‘glamorous’ activities such as what I now tend to call ‘studio art’.

There is of course an ‘art’ of writing, speaking, reading and thinking, and, like any other art, it is something which can inspire a lifelong passion and a lifelong commitment and sense of aspiration, invoving challenge, obstacles, adventures and achievements.
And yet, I still can’t think of a word that encompasses all of this activity, or the special way in which these activities are combined.



The Art of Lecturing & The Lecturing of Art

There go my fingers again, skittering over the keyboard, hopping from letter to letter like a child avoiding puddles on a pavement, staying ‘dry’, making leaps, making sense, trying not to make mistakes.

I wake up every morning, and go to bed at night with a mind full of responsibilities, challenges, problems, anxieties, ideas and regrets, but writing in public is not the best place to deal with these. It’s better to keep a slightly lighter heart in public I find. Best to dig a little deeper, or perhaps ‘dig’ sideways, in search of something to say that may be of interest to someone other than oneself.

The talk that I gave last week in Berlin was adapted and shortened from a lecture I gave last year, and which I had also published (in another form) as an article. This week, given the experience of Berlin and of the publication I was able to return, more informed, to the original lecture and gave it again, on two occasions, to undergrduates of two different colleges. In both cases it went well.

After 20 years of giving lectures I am still always looking to improve them, to make them satisfying, enjoyable and productive for myself, and to create a truly inclusive, informative, genuinely interesting and inspiring event. I continue to experiment with every aspect of giving lectures, but seem to have more or less settled on a kind of compromise between structured preparation and spontaneous event. I do have a script, and follow it, but loosely.

I find that you keep peoples’ attention by really speaking to and with them and avoiding speaking either at them or to yourself, the room, or to some abstract realm like history, posterity, your noble subject itself etc.

A good lecture may be a one-sided conversation but it is a conversation no-less. This means that you must be aware at every moment of the other person, even if, in the case of the lecture, the other person is 100 or 200 persons.

Talking to the audience is talking with the audience and, crucially, registering, sensing, feeling whether they are following and absorbing your points, and adding and subtracting, repeating and clarifying accordingly, to make sure that they are.

Sorry to be unscientific and esoteric, but quite how you might just ‘have’ or develop this special ‘feel’ for lecturing I do not know, but I believe it may be the deciding factor determining who gets to lecture, who enjoys lecturing, whose lectures are attended, enjoyed and effective etc. As per last week’s blog, I think it helps to start out with a desire (or desperate need) to be heard and understood, to have a passion for communicating, for sharing ideas, a love of words, language, writing etc.

I have heard educationalist experts decry the lecture format as out of date, old fashioned, egotistical and ineffectual. I was told on more than one occasion that it had been “scientifically proven” that students “only concentrate for the first 12 minutes of any lecture”. Well, I just have to disagree and say that I have found the lecture to be a very exciting and productive format and one which, I am certain, students can concentrate upon and can enjoy and learn from. It all, of course, depends on the lecture, the lecturer, the lecture theatre etc. etc. and how well all of this is deployed.
(I should perhaps add the caveat here that the science I understand best is the so-called ‘Pataphysics‘ of artist Alfred Jarry who described his invention as ” the science of exceptions”).

Like everyone else, I have good and bad days at work, and come home every day utterly exhausted, whether I have been teaching for 1-2 hours or for 4-5 hours. Nevertheless, I regard all of my opportunities to teach in an art school as opportunities to uphold the standards of the subject (the subject of art and its education), and so, each lecture, it seems to me, should aspire to be a work of art, i.e. it should be carefully researched but delivered in a way that engages an audience; it should be clearly motivated by the artist’s/lecturerer’s personal passions and sincere enquiries, but relate to and reach out to the passions and enquiries of everyone in the audience, and thus relate to, touch upon and illuminate  the widest range of histories and theories of the subject – art.

A lecture (or, for that matter, a seminar, a tutorial, feedback-writing etc.) should also be inventive, risk-taking, challenging, imaginative, crafted, performed etc. etc. yes, all of the things you would want and expect from an art work, you should be able to find in your art lecture.

There were so many things I wanted to write about this week, and I always feel a little sorry for the themes and ideas I have set-aside or omitted, but this morning, deciding to acentuate the positive – as the old song goes – has led me, and you, and my fingers, all over and around the keyboard, to land us HERE.


Speaking in Public – Guten Morgen from Berlin

Away from home again today, in another city, another country. Waking up in a hotel room I can see the sun rising over the buildings. This is a conference of art writers, critics, curators, lecturers and artists from all over the world.

We’ve all come together to give voice to our responses to rising nationalism and what has come to be called ‘Populism’ (though there are a lot of discussions about what this term means).

We often despair of humanity when we listen to the awful news that newspapers often seem to take a kind of grotesque delight in sharing with us, and yet, if you come to a conference or congress like this one, it’s easy to have your faith and hope in humanity restored. The level of expertise and intelligence, motivated by a certain kindness and progressive, hopeful thought, is astounding, charming, beguiling.

People bring their ideas, their languages, their absolute fluency in multiple languages, their style, their sense of humour and their ability, to think, discuss and debate, and exchange, in an energetic, hard-working spirit and a creative atmosphere. It goes on for days (the entire congress here is about 9-10 days and I am attending 4-5 of them). Every day the organisers have laid on a different wonderful twist of the eganda, with new provocations and discussions arising.

For the last few days of the congress, the discussions wind down and our hosts start to ferry us about their city, showing us world-class art in exceptional galleries and museums and special places of interest. Of course, they also keep us very well-fed and watered throughout, and the hotel is great too. (As one of the chosen speakers I am very pleased and proud to say that all of this is paid for by the organisers and by my employers at my university.)

But maybe this report is not in the slightly more analytic spirit of my usual blog, so, before I close, I’ll just say a few words about writing for your voice, for the stage, for the conference:

I believe I may be unusual in the degree of conscientiousness, mixed with a kind of perennial anxiety, that goes into my preparations to speak in public. Public speaking  is feared by almost everyone, but it should realy be practiced as an art, a skill by everybody, I think, because it can be so empowering. Furthermore, there is almost no point crafting a beautiful text to speak, if you don’t add to this the equal consideration of how you are going to present it sonically, aurally, performatively.

Of course, this is no easy task, and it comes with years of practice, with training, with mistakes made and learned-from etc. etc. But I am just stressing the importance of never taking for granted that, just because your ideas and your writing may be excellent, that you will necesarily do your words justice at the podium.

The best it can be, I find, is when you know you have worked and worked a text so that each and every sentence feels good in your own mouth. None feel too long, all feel equally and genuinely interesting, and none  feel in any way incidental, extraneous or excessive. Each has a point, and your job is to ‘land’ every point (to ‘land’ it in the minds of your audience).

Interestingly, once a text is really ready for the voice it becomes the master of your voice i.e. it will now dictate to you how you will behave, what your tongue, your lips, your mouth, your body language, and the sounds that comes out of your mouth will do. Ultimately it will determine whether and how your words and ideas are heard, felt, understood and registered.

What I also mean here is that your completed text is not completed for the page but for the stage. It is a script, a script that is capable of animating your own body, mind and spirit, and THUS animating those of the audience. In this way a reading is a live event, quite unlike reading the the same words in a journal or on a screen.

And this, of course, is the ultimate excitement of the conference or congress, the reason people have travelled long and far, for days in some cases, from all over the world, to be here, to speak and to hear together, and respond to ideas, honed and crafted in words, and performed as a live event, a festival of well-meaning thought, the thoughts of some of my favourite human beings, of new acquaintences and old friends I meet once every year or two, whenever I can attend.

Now, I hear the Sunday bells ringing across the city, and I sign-off –  Guten Morgen from Berlin!



Mediocrity, Excellence & Mysterious Achievements

I realised, after posting last week’s Blog, that I had used the title and the concept ‘What To Do Next’ for a previous post. I felt a little ashamed about this, and checked through, noticing that I had also used the title ‘Journeys’ on two occasions.

It doesn’t seem to matter much, but repetition might signify a lack of ideas or inspiration, a kind of mediocrity, a mediocrity that we all experience, and which is an undeniable part of us – just as our excellence and most dismal performance is also part of us – but which we try to avoid displaying in what we call our ‘work’.

Then again, here we are with that part of my ‘work’ that is my weekly Blog post. I know I don’t devote much time to this, just about half an hour a week, and so I could say, not much ‘care’ and consideration either. And so, if I display my mediocrity here, maybe that is appropriate to the Blog form, maybe that is even crucial to the Blog ethos and the culture of the internet i.e. not to achieve or strive for ‘excellence’ here but a kind of everyday, nodding-along OK-ness that is sharable with the rest of humanity? Perhaps, in the 21st century, an artist should aim for mediocrity, not excellence?

Somehow, I think Andy Warhol would have liked that sentiment. He saw a kind of glory in ordinariness, famously saying that (to paraphrase) ‘the great thing about Coke is that even the Queen of England can’t have a better Coke than me’.

Nevertheless, I do use, think about, aspire to the concept of excellence quite a lot. I always want to create better and create my best. In fact, what I call excellence is actually more than excellent. i.e. I feel that when I am really ‘excelling’ (and this is starting now to sound like maybe the wrong word) I am creating something that I didn’t know I could do and which I do not know how to do.

I have written guitar parts on the guitar that I then have to spend months or even years trying to play in the way they should be played. And that is strange. I have also written songs that I can barely sing, and while this is partly due to the fact that my songwriting might just be better than my singing, it also seems mysterious and fascinating to me that our body can know that place (that note, that pick or strum, chord or composition) that it also doesn’t know how to occupy.

I have written and (in collaboration) designed and produced books that I am so proud of, but looking back, it seems impossible that I wrote or made them. And I’ve written songs, poems, articles, essays, made videos and photographs etc. all of which, in retrospect, I am very proud of, and yet, do not really understand how they came to be made, what it took to make them, how I knew how to make them, or even what bar of excellence I was reaching for that informed this or that decision or when to declare them complete.

So much of art is a hunch, an intuition, and in this way becomes undeniably mysterious and esoteric. It’s unfashionable to claim that artists have ‘special powers’ or ‘genius’ etc. and even, today, to make any clear distinction between artist and non-artist. I agree with that democratic principle, and I do find art in all kinds of places and people of course. Really, everyone is an artist and we just choose to concentrate on that aspect of our humanity to a greater or lesser degree, channeling, expressing, training, reflecting, repressing, diverting or ignoring it as much as we want or need to.

And yet, the more you concentrate on the ‘art’ in your life or identity or humanity, the more, I think, you will encounter its mysterious and esoteric aspect, as you learn to work with and believe in your hunches and intuitions, and also learn to know that your ‘excellence’ lies, not just beyond your reach but perhaps just short of it, in a more awkward and unknowable place, a place you cannot aim for or occupy (an aphorism from Kafka comes to mind here “The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground …”

Perhaps then, we do our best and do our best work as artists, not when we are consciously focused on achieving or striving for excellence, but when we just do what we do, exploring our own forms and contents, with, of course, a certain degree of belief and self-confidence that is always essential, and making what we make to our own intuitive standards, and therefore oblivious to what both we and others call ‘excellence’.

Just to add, before closing, in all of the above time and its passing plays an important part that we haven’t  begun to discuss. Works we made in relative modesty and long ago seem better in retrospect, and our ‘juvenilia‘ takes on greater value over time. We look back to past works wondering how on earth we could have made them.

I’ll illustrate this week’s text with a link to an article I recently published in which I began to investigate the concept of ‘juvenilia