Contributor: Chris Willcox
Creative Discipline: Philosophy and Painting
For those of us involved in creative endeavours, Chris’ words on Why We Make Art will inspire, reinforce and remind us of why we attempt to communicate through creativity.
Read this and give yourself up! (you’ll see what I mean)
On Why We Make Art
Generally speaking, art is born out of the shortcomings of language; a frustration with vocabulary on behalf of the artist. Language has of course been quite an adept tool at explaining the immediately tangible aspects of life, but when its focus turns to life’s more elusive and less accessible facets we immediately see how blunt a tool it is. The power of language lies in it’s ability to describe fact based information in a fact based way. This grew out of evolutionary necessity, as statements like “look out, there’s a fucking wolf behind you!” have been imperative to our continued survival for millenia. Yet language quickly becomes imprecise and inert when it seeks to describe things that aren’t in front of us, namely things like death and love (and interestingly enough, these are really the only subjects in art). By themselves these words are hollow symbols – too wrapped up in personal history and emotion to mean anything at all; clichéd to the point of total obscurity. When I say the word love to you, I define its concept with a mishmash of people I’ve loved and haven’t loved, the times I’ve hurt and haven’t hurt, gradeschool crushes, squeezes, flings, and all the rest of an endless library of autobiographical romances littering my recollection. The word then goes from my mouth through the air into your ear, then through your own subjective experience surrounding love and perhaps lack of love — surely as riddled with oblique idiosyncrasies as my own — and as a result none of us have any idea what the other is talking about – if we can even be bothered to try figuring that out in the first place.
But here art comes in to do what language can’t, to say what can’t be said. But rather than using a rigidly defined set of symbols like words, art employs the tools language cannot: vagueness, contradiction and non-rationality. Indeed art shows us that often the only way to solve a mystery is with another mystery. Prima facie this may look like art ‘reveals mystic truths’ as Nauman jests, but in reality its task is the much more complex and nuanced process of revealing the very non-existence, even the impossibility, of such truths. This might seem to go against the religious art we’re accustomed to seeing in museums and churches, works whose function is purely illustrative as a window into the divine or a truth-maker of the holy. Yet when religious art makes these references to the divine, they exist entirely outside of the artwork itself: the narrative of Mary mourning over the slain body of Christ , for example, is not implicit in a pieta, — we wouldn’t know it without the stories and symbols of the Bible. This could be just a woman with a fallen man. Yet what we do get from that image, and this to me is always much more interesting, is a striking and potent sense of the feeling of death and loss. There is no truth inherent in what that conveys, just a tickling of the imagination, a reminder of our own personal history. The literary reference to Mary and Christ is of course a very important and intentional part of the work, but we must be careful what function we attribute this reference to. The work is not meant to prove or make true this story; art doesn’t do that. Art can rather be thought of as a way to visualize that which cannot normally be seen, to tap into the collective unconscious. The function of this is not to reach into the unknowable and pull out a granule of truth to show to the world, but rather to expose and exploit the nonexistence of truth in that very void. The true artist is not the purveyor of mystic knowledge to the masses, but he who truly accepts the lucid invitation to create and live amongst the desert.