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Why?

May 16, 2011

It’s hardly a career choice.

It’s not a stepping-stone to fame or fortune.

In this country (UK), it is hardly even respectable, for if I claim I am ‘an artist’, I’m viewed with suspicion, or contempt, or hostility. This is not an exaggeration. I am fortunate enough to travel extensively as I run workshops across Europe and beyond and I know that there are cities, perhaps whole cultures, where being an artist is a respectable (and occasionally even a viable) way for someone to spend a life. But that is not so here – nor in Australia where I also lived for a long time.

As I embark on ‘Echo Chamber’ (note to self -do I need another title??) I have to ask ‘why?’. I’ve directed over 50 shows, written over a dozen, performed countless improvisations and non-improvisations. I’ve taught, facilitated, dramaturged, composed….. None of it ‘goes’ anywhere. I am part of an international community of artists, makers, creative individuals who know my work and whose work I know. They are my extended my family, my community. But as a part of wider society? As a part of wider society’s artistic agenda? I’m marginal.

Each show, each exploration, germinates from the smallest idea, develops, flowers (though sometimes in unexpected colours and occasionally the flowers are a little sickly, though sometimes also they provide a quite unexpected glory). Each show matures, dies and, in dying, scatters some seeds from which another show, or poem or conversation might grow. Seed – growth – maturation – death.

Birth – life – death.

Why make a show? Why are there flowers? Why do birds exist?

No answers of course.

A flower is because it needs to be. Unless prevented or starved, the seed will grow. The egg will hatch and the bird will fly. The idea, the urge, the question, the possibility will become a work of art. It must, unless prevented or starved.

I will make this show, another show, and then other shows, because I cannot starve or forbid a possibility. I will make art because I am an artist. If that assertion bothers anyone, let them be bothered, but please, keep your anger and contempt to yourself.

And as for the show? Of course I would prefer this particular flower to be displayed in a beautiful garden. I would love the work to be seen, respected, supported (even funded……?). But if it cannot take it’s place in the garden, it will find it’s place in the wasteland and it will still be beautiful.

The work of art will grow, and I will care for it, because it must.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 8:59 am

    hello and thanks for that … though i regret the bitterness that comes through, given i know some of the glorious flowers that you have helped nurture and bring to bloom!
    Andrew Morrish has just been talking last weekend about the benefits of being an underground artist, undetected by the powers that judge (or believe they can!) …. also an advantage!
    j

    • May 16, 2011 9:18 am

      Hello Jaya!
      There is no bitterness for me. I, like Andrew, am increasingly comfortable being a marginal artist, generally left alone by the ‘gatekeepers’. There is frustration that, being marginal, prevents some things, but it clearly enables others. After all, to be ‘on the radar’ runs the very real risk (and we see this all the time) that if the authorities fail to support an idea, the work of art does not happen. For me, and I know for you, that simply isn’t the case. We make what we make because we feel that it needs (or we want it) to happen.

      So I don’t think there is any need for bitterness but there is a need for realism. If I (as at times I have) think that making a work will somehow open doors to other things – in other words if the work is designed to be some kind of ‘calling card’ – then I am deluded and that way bitterness indeed lies. For me, quite the opposite is true. I am very happy that most of my time is spent working with wonderful people who do the work, often subsidised from their own meagre resources, because they know it to be crucial to their sense of being a ‘whole human being’

  2. June 11, 2011 1:29 am

    Hi John and Jaya,

    thank you John for this post, I can see and understand so many of your thoughts and questions, I feel I am more and more looking towards the community within my local area, and to other art forms such as visual arts and music, for support and venues to hold my work. and this I am really happy to do, I love to be with artists from all disciplines and with people from the community, however, I also see that this path sets me apart from my fellow dancers, and from the organisations and funders that put on shows. Am I on a path of the unknown, and therefore not recognised… not funded? Who knows? I do know however, that there are fellow artists, like yourselves, who support each other and give lots of respect and integrity to work when its due, in ways that may not be valued by our society, but are valued by me (and you), and this must outweigh everything else if we are to survive. Support your fellow artist! and give as much as you can, which is not always the exchange of money, it can also be more about microphilanthropy! Hope this makes sense!
    Well, whatever my situation I am always learning about myself and the search and discovery has a long way to go! Im happy to have met you both 🙂 and I hope to work with you again soon..

    Kt x

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