In the past, you were only an artist if others recognized you as such. You did what you had to and if it looked beautiful chances are people would notice. You didn’t become a hermit; you just lost interest in the world outside your cave. Until one day people would begin to ask where you were.
You explored light, color, sound and texture. You broke the boundaries of the canvas. You stepped outside the social norm. You fell out of love with God and got romantically involved with Science. You took away the tangible object altogether and ran naked around the world.
Nowadays, you decide, at 16, that you’re rather good at drawing butterflies. You think back over your formative years and reminisce about summer holidays spent tracing the characters out of comics. You see a CGI M&Ms advertisement on TV (perhaps one of the first) and a father says, “That is what you should do with your life.” You plagiarise a few Magritte compositions and lace them with meaningful lyrics from 1990s rock songs.
You go to college and spend the first few months coloring still lifes of bouncy balls and blue plastic bangles. Gradually, color is beat out of you. Objects are beat out of you. You spend the next few months shading stalactites, cutting them out and sticking them back down. You return home each day with hands and arms covered in charcoal and glue. You peel the glue off in front of your housemates and point out the black stains on your jeans.
Charcoal and glue are beat out of you. You spend the next few months getting drunk in nightclubs and photographing the scenes. You carry around a notebook that becomes filled with overheard snippets, cigarette ash and other people’s hairs. You spend all your money on developing films and drinking beer. You are given extra marks because this is raw, this is good stuff, this is putting your college work before your social life. You make few friends because in the days you are too nervous and hungover to really communicate, and in the nights you talk to people but rarely remember who they were.
Documenting the ephemera of life by means of collecting debris and taking photographs is beat out of you. You read a lot of books and think a lot of thoughts. You display a load of old photographs in an antique suitcase in the corner of a room and graduate with honors. People hand you their business cards and nod at you from across the room.
You introduce yourself to people as an artist. You put “artist” in the occupation section of online forms. You get a job in administration and collect bent staples for three years. You collect the punched-out circles from inside hole-punchers. You collect faulty printouts and the coffee stains from all the mugs in the canteen. Your apartment is littered with all this shit you are collecting. You photograph photographs of photographs. You write business plans. You photograph these business plans. You apply for funding, photograph and alphabetize the subsequent rejection letters, decide that art is only meaningful if it is free.
You introduce yourself to people but don’t look them in the eye. You start books but do not finish them. You stare into the bottom of the cup of every coffee that you buy and feel bitterness overlapping with nostalgia. After six years, you buy a sketchpad and make pencil drawings of birds.