I have never been in style. That doesn’t mean I’m a nerd or a geek; rather, I just don’t care about trends. My mother used to preach never to be “weak-minded,” which in her viewpoint, meant listening to anyone else’s drive but your own. I may not have set the world on fire, but I’m certain I’ve made my mother proud in that regard.
Artistically, I’m drawn to old, you see. I read old books; I read new books. I finish the old ones; I abandon the new ones. I’ve read 5 books this year to date, and 4 of them are at least half a century old. I hated the other one.
So, it probably isn’t surprising that my art is dated. My photography is reminiscent of shooters from the 1950s or 1960s, the folks whose work I literally grew up watching. My writing is similar — full of characterization, words, descriptors — it isn’t prefabricated, ready to be turned into a screenplay. Indeed, although a former friend used to bet me my books would be movies, I’ll wager it never happens. I like plots and subplots; I think readers should be surprised. They should laugh in the middle of tears, or cry during lovemaking. In the old days, the world wasn’t simple; only the themes were.
Now, I recognize that a lot of people like the old stuff. Why else would we keep recycling story ideas? But that’s not what I’m referring to. I am referring to the time when artists thought it their job to invent the art.
Y’all don’t hear me.
Picasso perfected drawing people. Then he pulled the work apart, rearranged it, and recreated it in the form of cubism. He told us to look at the visual through its emotional filter, to see the world not through the visual cortex, but through the whole of the self. For decades, poets knew the rules of poetry. Iambic pentameter ruled the landscape, and rhyme was the order of the day. In the 50’s and 60’s, poets stripped away the rules, found the frames holding up the structure, and added as little to the remaining skeleton as possible. The result — post-Beat, post-modern, too cool 2 be cool — turned the literary world on its ear. Art and consciousness became indistinguishable.
And then, someone discovered you could make money, and suddenly, it wasn’t about the art, it was about the Marketing. Now, I’m not anti-business. I am, however, anti artists who believe what they are selling are commodities. No, my friends. We are selling us. We sell our invention, our pain, our loneliness. We sell the ability to feel the mother weep for her dying child. We sell the teenage girl who awakens, and thinks she might have just been raped. We sell the lonely man, walking barefoot on concrete, his feet black against the cold sidewalk, as he looks from face to face, hoping someone notices he didn’t die the night before.
They won’t notice, but we will. If we sell simplicity, and not the crowded, messy, ugly perfection of life, why the hell did Picasso live? What was the point of Sonia Sanchez or Diane Arbus, or Jimi or Janis, or any of it?
If this — whatever it is we do — is about selling and not creating, then let me die unsuccessful and unsold.
Shoot, it was good enough for Van Gogh.