I was in my workshop on Wednesday and I began printing with some of the first linocuts I made just over five years ago. One in particular I enjoyed working with was a little blackbird. It occurred to me that the only reason I had made that blackbird in the first place (sad story alert) was because I had seen a real one outside my house with a hurt wing. I was leaving my house to go in to town and it was running up and down the road and I thought to myself ‘I’ll try to help him on the way home.’ By the time I had gotten home the poor baby had been run over by a car. I was devastated and it played on my mind for days. As I was practising my lino cutting at the time, it seemed only natural that I would create an image of him – I think that by doing this I was trying to create a memory of it and was my way of giving him an apology. He’s a card now:
This led me to think about a night I had recently spent with Graeme in the pub where we had a discussion about the photograph ‘Leap in to the Void’ (1960) by Yves Klein. (It was on the wall, we’re not poncy art types who wear berets and drink fancy wine in grotty Brighton pubs.)
We had discussed whether this photograph was capturing a real event or whether it was staged. I was convinced it was staged and that led us on to whether that meant that the image was relevant now or not – if nothing happened, then surely it isn’t recording anything?
I’ve decided that the image is relevant. Whether the jump really ended badly for the guy or not, the fact that we are here nearly sixty years later talking about it makes it relevant in itself. It’s like that question – if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? If Klein had not taken that picture, then the conversation we were having in the pub 57 years later would not have happened, meaning that a single image taken in 1960 is having a direct impact on what we are doing on a Friday night in 2017. That’s pretty amazing, right? It shows the power and importance of making art and making a record of that time and place. If it’s important to you at the time, it’ll be important to either you or somebody else in the future. If I hadn’t made that bird linocut in 2012 I wouldn’t be writing about that memory now because I would have totally forgotten about it – it would no longer be having an impact on my life now. If I hadn’t made that linocut then I wouldn’t be writing this either, so maybe the world would be a better place I don’t know.
As someone who regularly struggles with creating work – not knowing what to make or even why I’m bothering sometimes – over-analysed trains of thought like this really help me out. They encourage me to just make, even when I’m feeling lost. I don’t know about anyone else, but there have been so many times when the last thing I’ve wanted to do is go to the workshop and make stuff because I don’t know what to do. Three or four hours later, I’m standing surrounded by ink and mess and mountains of prints with a massive grin on my face wondering what the big deal was because I’m having such a great time.
Neil Gaiman gave a keynote speech at the University of the Arts graduating class in 2012 (the same year as the blackbird disaster – coincidence? I think not). You can see the full video here, it’s twenty minutes long but it’s like he’s giving every creative freelancer or artist a big word cuddle. At one point he says this:
Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Make Good Art. In my head this links directly to what I’ve been thinking and writing about here. Even at your lowest and worst times, make things because it makes you feel better and you never know what you’ll get out of it. And even if what you end up making out of it is crap, you still get a reminder of how you were feeling rubbish but you pushed yourself anyway and it’ll be a little boost next time you need it.
What ties all of this together? I think it’s the importance of recording little moments. Of documenting things that are important to you. Even if you are sure that they’re only important at that absolute moment in time, it’s nice to revisit something later on. I am often taken back to an emotion or a memory of where I was and how I was feeling when I made certain pieces. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling. I wouldn’t have remembered that little bird on Wednesday had I not made a record of that series of events. We would not have been talking about Klein six decades later had he not recorded that particular series of events. I can only hope that someone still wants to talk about something that I’ve made in sixty years time, that would be ace. Even if they don’t though, the recorded blackbird moment is a reminder to act on things now rather than to wait until later, which is an excellent life lesson. Thanks art.
Oh and for the record, Klein’s photograph was staged. An image of Klein himself jumping off a building was taken with a net underneath to catch him. A second image was then taken of the street with no jumping man and no net. They were then combined in the darkroom to create the illusion of something really mucky being about to happen.