Dirty Words for Dirty Work.
I had a Big Day Out in the City this week! I was invited to meet with an art journaling group for brunch on Wednesday in Manhattan.
I know! Brunch on a Wednesday! It was my first clue that this group probably had a lot of water signs in it. You know, Pieces and Gemini and Cancer, all artistic and inventive, lively and emotive. I’m a Capricorn. Earth sign, as in dirt. As is “Dull As”. It would never occur to a Capricorn to eat brunch on a Wednesday.
And you know what you get when you mix water and earth.
Q: What do you get when you mix Water with Earth?
A: Either something very useful, like adobe, or mud pies.
This group of artists invited me to join them because of my book, which seems to give certain kind-hearted readers the impression that I am artistic, and interesting. When, actually, all I am is a Dirt Sign who sits for months on end alone in a room, cursing at my paint brushes while flailing at blank sheets of paper, or stabbing at blank sheets of paper with a Bic pen while cursing. The fact that I am able to produce a book with illustrations and text is purely accidental, merely the result of playing the odds that with enough cursing I’ll be able to spew a few usable words and pictures.
When I wrote my book (When Wanderers Cease to Roam, which I mention for those of you who are just joining us in this blog) I did not know about Art Journals. But the first people who picked up the book, the first readers who wrote to me about the connection they had made with my stories and pictures, were Art Journalers, and I was thrilled to have such a cool name for what I’d done. (My agent and my editor just called my stuff “very odd”; the word “quirky” also gets mentioned a lot when I’m talking with publishing types.)
But the more I make the acquaintance of true art journalers, the more I realize that what I do is sooooooo not art journaling. Art Journaling, when it’s done badly, is too over-wrought, facile, and self-referential. I have in the past been hammered by art journalists who are fond of that kind of art journaling (loading up each page with every singlecrafting technique they know) for saying that that’s not art journaling, that’s just torturing the page. Puh-leeze. I’m not that bad.
But then I meet art journalers who are skilled, highly esthetic, and deeply inventive — people who make their own paper, bind their own books, experiment with their own pigments — and I realize that I’m not in that league. I don’t belong at the brunch table with real artists. I’m a really bad art journaler. Because I am not in love with the process of art at all.
I buy a very cheap, lightweight ready-made paper that doesn’t even pass muster as watercolor paper, and I paint with very inexpensive paints that don’t even come in tubes. My process doesn’t include much curiosity or commitment to the materials or the philosophy of art; my process runs on a lot of anger, luck, and tons of relief when it’s over. In fact, my process involves so much anger that really, if I could find a way to just curse for a living I’d cut out all that bothersome painting and writing.
So, any way, I got to sit at the Real Artists table for brunch on Wednesday (no mud pies; I had eggs Florentine with hollandaise sauce in the Time Warner building) and then I got to go see an exhibit on contemporary African design at the Art and Design Museum (skip it, unless you are dying to see how utterly pretentious mediocre design can be) and then I had to hurry downtown to hand-deliver my Damn France Book manuscript to my editor at Bloomsbury.
And my darling editor went to bat for me with the evil money bags in the Accounting Department and she persuaded them to give me a small budget for travel to Seattle!! So yes, definitely, I am going to Seattle!! Throw me a fish, someone!
So if you have any suggestions, or you have a book group or ladies club or English class who might be interested in hearing the world’s worst art journaler talk about my Useful Travel Tips for Staying Put, please let me know. I’m available in May 2011 (exact dates TBA). And if you’ve by any chance already been to one of my talks, please let Seattle know that No, I don’t curse when I’m out in public, talking about my work. Much.
And what do you think? Is a negative attitude the most useful tool in your creative process?
P.S. (added the next morning): Top Cat just read this post and is worried. He says that I seem depressed, that I’m being too critical of myself. Good lord. The man lives with me — does he not know that if I weren’t in a bad mood I’d have no personality at all? I am being light-hearted here, making the most of my limited talents etc — forgive me for not being as funny as Helen but then, I’m not Australian so I wasn’t born with a head start in the lovableness department. (god I love Australians.)Have no fear, dear readers — I’m in no worse shape today than usual — and it’s snowing again! Got a new Champagne-O-Meter out in the backyard!
(Photo above, of mud pie, is by Timothy Valentine. Thanks, Timothy!)