16 Jan What is the point of creating art? (More from Patti)
A thought from Patti in 1968, at the tender age of 22. “In my low periods, I wondered what was the point of creating art. For whom? Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos – the Modern, the Met, the Louvre? I craved honesty, yet found dishonesty in myself. Why commit to art? For self-realization, or for itself? It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.”
Obviously, she is referring to her 22 year old self as an idealistic young artist, but while the pinnacle of success might well have been to get your art into “the Modern, the Met etc”, I am honored to have any of my work displayed in the smallest nook of a downstairs loo, so that it may provide a window onto something or even contemplated, however briefly. However, I am pondering the last statement about illumination… As artists we can indeed offer ‘illumination’, a different point of view, or to make people look differently at something. Ultimately, however, you can’t make this the work’s intention, you have to be true to yourself, and create what you see first.
Some of the best advice I ever had is from my wife who said “Just make the work”, in other words don’t think about who for or why or preempt the target audience, just do the work you need to do.
Are we animating God? I don’t know, maybe if you interpret this as inspiration, in whatever form – the ‘muse’ – then yes maybe we are. Are we talking to ourselves? Well, if we are trying to make sense of our own world, then yes we are. And what was the ultimate goal? Well what is the point of art? This is the question people have been asking since the birth of art. So maybe we just need to get on with it!
Sometimes it’s when you make mistakes, or have happy accidents, that you discover something. This is when the real magic happens and is the best feeling I know.
Something else from my current read made me smile, which was about a portrait of a portrait; “Taking my camera to MoMA, I searched for inspiration. I took a series of black-and-white portraits of de Kooning’s Woman I, and had them developed. Taping them to a wall, I began her portrait. It amused me to do a portrait of a portrait.”
This chimes with one of my ideas for the portrait project – a portrait of a portrait, or a portrait after a portrait’…
There is a black-and-white photograph of Patti when she visited Paris with her sister. I will try to describe: It’s a portrait shot taken from the waist up, she’s standing in a street out of focus in the background; head on, her familiar intense pout, wearing black turtle neck sweater, long gangly hands, the right hand forefinger and thumb holding a small upright white feather, left hand with four fingers splayed almost pointing to the feather. It’s an image which, to me, has perfect balance and perfect contrast.
If I can go some way to recreate the same intensity of feeling and poise in my portrait work, I’d be very happy, so perhaps one for my own self-portrait: ‘A portrait after the portrait of Patti Smith with small white feather 1968’.