I decided I was an existentialist when I was 15, after reading Hesse and Beauvoir, and at heart, I still am. I don’t usually question or second-guess myself. Yes, I have indecisive days. But in general, I make decisions, even big ones, quite easily and don’t look back. It’s almost as if I believe that there are no right or wrong decisions or at least, that the point of decision-making is not to agonize over missing the “right” answer, but to decide on a direction to the best of your ability, then go ahead with conviction. Life is full-colour, not black and white. You follow one decision to the next as if you are going through a maze, each step made brings you to a myriad of new pathways to decide on, so the best thing is to just fully explore the path you happen to be on. And to have fun while doing it.
But over the last couple of days I’ve been wondering, uncharacteristically: “Is it nonsense to sit in a disposal bin, be on display, while drawing? What is the purpose? Why am I excited about that?” At the same time, I knew I was excited about this and wanted to do it. That alone is reason enough for me.
Beyond that though, through the process of sitting in this bin and sketching as a group, we are really engaging in performance art. The whole thing is a bit contrived, but sometimes you need to create an artificial construct in order to push people (like me) out of their comfort zone. I’ve always liked performance art. The idea that art is a process or a performance that exists only in the moment, not something overly precious that needs to be placed in a museum to be worshipped like a deity, appeals to me.
I believe that one moment in performance art has the same worth as 500 years of preserving the Mona Lisa — does it really matter how long the art exists in the giant scope of the universe’s time frame? As soon as you start holding on to art and preserving it for posterity, resell value, bragging rights, it loses some of its purity, its essence. Back in my Emily Carr student days, I even created and performed a piece of performance art and enjoyed the experience. The whole thing felt experiential and experimental. You never know what will happen. For this reason I also like attending improv theatre. The Friday midnight show at Vancouver Theatre Sports League on Granville Island is when they test out new material, nothing is censored, anything can be said, there is no judgment. Some jokes don’t go anywhere, but a lot of them do.
Performance art can also involve nature. Some of my favourite artists are Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Smithson of Spiral Jetty fame, and the Canadian artist Peter von Tiesenhausen. And I discovered Olafur Eliasson when I was in Berlin, he works from there and creates the most amazing installations around the world, often involving light. He’s also spun his art off into a charity project to help bring safe, affordable lighting to off-grid communities, usually in developing countries. I also like Spencer Tunick’s photographs of large gatherings of nude people, and Christo and Jeanne Claude‘s giant installations in either natural or urban settings. These artists show that making art can be about putting something out there and then letting it go, allowing it to interact with its environment and thereby gain its own life.
So for us sketchers, and for anybody who wants to get out there and draw or paint or sculpt, but is not currently doing it, this is a good lesson. Do not worry about the outcome, follow the urge to create something and see what happens. Allow “accidents”. Be curious. Have fun. Trust yourself as an artist. At the same time, don’t overthink it or aim for brilliance.
And remember, it’s just a piece of paper and some crayons you are messing with, not a nuclear reactor.