This is not a manifesto.
I wrote this in the beginning stages of a process: “The shy must flee or adapt. You can no longer simply go to view art; you must be a part of it. Be asked to remove your shoes, be fed a full meal, or participate in an out-of-the-blue political conversation. They’re almost all political, and they’re expecting you to bring your best words. Even though you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. This is because their art depends on you, the sample participant. You are expected to become the art piece, participating in making it what it is. Just as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” was art simply because he called it that, social art is art because the people doing it call themselves artists.”
Here are the reasons I cannot continue with this type of manifesto built around my art: my art is not me, and others are asking me to become it. That, I cannot give them, or feel I cannot give them. I can give them half-truths and last minute attempts that they will call real, because they choose, because I must force them. I can tell how in the real world I cannot keep on creating art because I am not this person who lives in front of bright bright lights: I live behind blankets and dim screens, hoping the person walking by will take their gaze off of me. I am chronically introverted, shy. I cannot continue to make myself who I am not. Blight of the world: a person who wants to be forever a part of the social and lacks the ability to realize the necessary graces. I have been told to do what I want: that’s not always realistic. I mention this, because it often feels I do not have the ability to pull of what I want in my deepest heart. I suppose I have the physical possibility; therefore, I actually do not have an excuse. But I hope I am understood- I do not have the mental ability.
Where do other people find their mental ability? How is it possible they have motivation and strength to continue without some otherworldly force? I feel it’s a miracle every time I work up the effort necessary. It’s as if I’m arriving above this sharp glass ceiling and my head is so full of clouds I cannot comprehend, and I am suddenly falling back down into the muck. Either way, it’s a cloud. I fake comprehension and apparently it’s enough: I act. I act out of adrenaline and honeymoon phases. It’s a love affair with my ideas, soon to fade. Fade because I have no motivation. Where can I find that? I am entrenched. Dug deep in my routines, my numbingly blind constant view of television and blank stares, I entwine myself with plots that don’t matter and characters that don’t exist. Where am I without God? Logically, I am nowhere. I am either in hurt or bliss, and I cannot ever find the constant comfort that still produces anything. I become complacent, and I forget. I forget every single day, second, every important word. I cannot do anything on my own.
I can continue to be inspired by the only things I have seen to work. Things that are far far far beyond me. I am not at all worthy to be creating art that is beyond me.
I’ll tell a story, because that’s all I can continue with right now. I found out a few years ago that sex trafficking happens in Seattle a lot. It’s because of the ports, I-5, and international traveling. I attended a training day for an organization called Real Escape from the Sex Trade, where they gave me psychological evidence that shows how young people’s brains develop, not that I needed proof to understand trading a person’s sexuality for money is wrong. I can assume it will screw them up in the future. I’m screwed up from seemingly nothing, seemingly an overemotional tendency and a social silence, so I can’t even imagine worse. I’m lost in this world where people ignore the facts. Fine, they can think what they want. But, I’m part of this “privileged group” that knows the truth. My Christian faith is a struggle, one I am asked directly by the Bible to share. Well, this world really hates that. The Pope just got TIME people of the year award for saying some encouraging things about gay people being allowed to marry. Sure, he’s being nice, but he’s totally ignoring the Bible: God hates those who defy him, not because they deserve hate, but because that defiance pushes them farther away from him, and all he wants is to be near. It’s like missing your lover so much you hate them for being away. The truth is we’re living in this broken world, and I feel like I am only at the beginning of riding out a storm. Sure, I’m excited about what’s to come. I get to live a life protected by God. Then again, I get to make almost everyone I meet uncomfortable when they find out I believe they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.
So, after my lengthy sidetrack, here’s more of the story. I did a lot of research on sex trafficking. I read horrific stories of girls being held against their will blocks away from their families, unable to leave. I recalled news stories like Elizabeth Smart, brainwashed into thinking she was an entirely different person after she was certainly old enough to remember who she was. I saw the media coverage of people who considered themselves “happy hookers”, or the kind of people who start organizations advocating for the sexuality and right of humans to buy whatever they wanted, as long as it didn’t harm another. Yikes, harm is a horribly subjective word. My psychiatrist prescribed me antidepressants because I fit criteria for clinical depression. If that’s based on emotions, could they prescribe a medicine for rape victims to forget what happened? Those sentences don’t fit, and I can’t find a way to say what I want. But it carries gravity to me; the fact that I have nothing to do with these women who are forced into prostitution, but everything to do with it at the same time. It’s beyond curiosity. It’s a connection to every human being through God. Like the Pablo Neruda poem, “so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep,” I’m close to all people. That’s a love poem, and this is a slightly desperate call to God: please help me communicate in this universe. I legitimately feel tongue tied when it comes to telling the truth. This is all far too honest, I hope I look back later and realize I need to be this honest all the time despite what anyone says. I’m already distantly loved by many, legitimately loved by a few. It’s better to be honestly hated by those who previously distantly loved me, if it’s for the sake of avoiding that lukewarm kind of existence. Anyway, God would rather have us hate him than partially love him for our made up version of who he’s not. He said so in Revelations.
Alright, now I’ll talk about art again. The kind of art I have stumbled into —this social practice— falls heavy on the shoulders of those who find themselves in it. Articles talk about the social artist as one who must facilitate awareness and activism within a phenomenon. They must be knowledgeable of politics, they must be smart and willing to organize and field questions. Suzanne Lacy spent years persuading activists, influential women, average people, and others to come talk about hot button women’s-issue topics on the stoops of a Brooklyn neighborhood. Her project, “Between the Door and the Street,” turned out thousands of participants and further changed the way we define art. In addition, artists like this must be able to defend themselves and also to blend into the crowd’s answers so as to remain legitimate.
They must not hold anything over their participants or ask them to respond to a conviction. It must remain a person-less experience. The participant may gain personal growth, but their self must not interfere with the work. If this happens, it must be acknowledged and will change the work entirely. Jean Houston in her article “Social Artistry” throws around words like “empower” and “understanding” to place artists in the mediator role. Artists really are the ultimate mediators, volunteering their services in communicating the most difficult subjects in the most convoluted ways. To her, they are a new kind of hero.
A question for God: does my interest in social art mean I wish to become a hero? When I search my heart, I know I wish to be acknowledged and loved. I also thoroughly wish to be praised. I think it’s true. My motivations for making social art come not from raising awareness for the distressed, but from bringing potential glory to good old me. Are artists glory seekers? Attention mongers? This would be easy to believe.
Duchamp called “Fountain” art because he wanted to. Thus, it became art. The second that happened, I gained the freedom to call whatever I do art, thus my education, artistic pursuit, and understanding is all built on the fact that “I WANT.” Then again, if “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” (Psalm 23:1).
I won’t ever feel fully legitimate as an artist. This is not some backwards attempt to have others tell me I am indeed legitimate and praiseworthy. It is an acceptance that I will never be able to produce something so beautiful as a human emotion. I will never recreate the bond between man and wife, between parent and child, between Father and Son. No, the aim is not to recreate perfection, but I would be ashamed if I came anywhere close to trying that. And that is, sadly, where I often find myself: grasping for unattainable perfection using my own weak weak weak muscles.
I hope my story finds some home in your mind. I hope my honesty makes its way to your heart and not your throat, scratching as you swallow it down.
God hates those who defy him, not because they deserve hate, but because that defiance pushes them farther away from him, and all he wants is to be near. It’s like missing your lover so much you hate them for being away.
"Every single time my heart beats, and my lungs expand, God is telling me, ‘keep living. I’m not finished with you yet.’"
Philippians 1:6- “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
I then learned to really look, and see that skin is not just a crayon-peach, but a greenish-red underneath. It contains hints of purple along the figure’s thighs, and reflects a creamy light blue reminiscent of the night I stood at the water’s edge and watched the shapes weave themselves among the ripples. I learned to look at what I see, not just what I know. That way, people and things are not plastic, but real; squishy to the touch and moldable like freshly-wetted clay.
Paintings are not afforded the spatial freedom granted to a sculptural object that simply “exists in space”. Paintings are usually laid out on stretchers as if they injured themselves. The intention of this work is to push the definition of painting and communicate the feeling of physical rather than illusionistic existence. I wish to push the mind’s boundary beyond the idea that an object needs to function in the form we understand it to be. This same notion of needing to belong in a category is enough to cause us pain. The painting peels itself off the stretcher to cry out in hurt. We, like the art we compare ourselves with, didn’t choose to come into the world and yet are expected to perform and fit well. This art speaks for itself, but passes the microphone to you. It wants to know how existence has hurt you and what is expected of you. The painting is healing, but its existence still hurts.
Sonnet 17 by Pablo Neruda
"Is life something you play?
And all the time wanting to get rid of it?
And further, everyone yelling at you
to shut up. And no wonder!
People don’t like to be told
that you’re sick
and then be forced
down with the hammer."
Anne Sexton, Live from Live or Die
"Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness."
This is Gail Matthews. She was killed by Gary Ridgeway, known as the Green River Killer.
Oil painting by Alaina Stocker