I’ve been thinking a lot about art recently. I must admit, it’s been giving me headaches. This could be because I am making three enormous 3D letters – A – R – T – from papier mache, and it’s one of those projects that sort of takes over.
I’ve always been certain that the definition of art isn’t some highminded esoteric waffle about the deep recesses of our consciousness. For me, it’s more about having an idea – ping! – and wondering away at how to bring that idea into being. Then actually having the guts to get the idea, even if it’s nonsense, out of the ether and onto the page, the screen, the keyboard, the canvas. Even if you don’t know how to start doing it. Especially if you don’t know how to start doing it. That’s art.
Take these 3D letters, for example. I thought I could make some, and that they would look great at my Open Studio event, brightly painted, almost as tall as me. I could see them in my mind’s eye. At first, in that vision, they were floating high above the house, held up by something… birds? Or helium balloons? Hmm. Which is more practical? Do I know enough birds? Can I afford enough helium canisters? Well, why don’t I just start making them and see what happens; we can think about the floating mechanism later. That’s art too – believing in the improbable*.
OK, how does one make 3D letter sculptures? I don’t know! Who cares. Let’s start with some plastic bags, scrunched up. Hmm. Now what about these sheets of wood pulp material, the sort of soundproofing thing you put under the floorboards… OK, hang on… that cuts quite well… what about if I dipped it in glue… er… or maybe tape… what about bubble wrap? OK, what about papier mache next on top… layers and layers of glue and newspaper… and leave it to dry… oh, that worked, after a fashion… Now what?
And repeat. Endlessly. This is also art, in my book – the doggedness required to bring something into being. It’s not glamorous, and there is cursing. No one talks about this stage, preferring to think art is magic. Not so; art is an idea – ping! – mixed with the despair of wishing you’d never started this damn thing, and the bloody mindedness to keep going.
I’ve made an A so far. I’ve flirted with the idea of making the R and the T easier, possibly, in some way.** But it’s inevitable that I won’t. I’ll just take a few days off and pretend I’m all new to this, and start the whole process again. That’s also art – the combination of the realism of many hours alone, covered in glue and paint and newsprint***, and the constant exciting hope that the process might bring something wacky and wonderful into the world.
And that someone might look up, high above the house, and raise a smile at it.
*If you believe in the improbable too much, you might in the end need therapy. I know this tricky balance all too well. It’s still hard to read my favourite book, The House That Sailed Away, and be perfectly calm when it rains. 🙂
**At least I didn’t go for I-L-L-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N.
***If all else fails, that sounds like a fun retreat-style business. I could just lock you in my studio and let you at the materials while I go shopping.