The Gap

A friend who lectures asked on Twitter for advice for first year Creative Media students. Having myself once been a first year Creative Media student I thought about what I would have liked to have heard, and I immediately thought of this Ira Glass quote I saw online a while ago.

This articulated something which had bugged me for years. When I started making creative things something just didn’t feel right. Much of it when completed didn’t please me, but I found it hard to understand why. It can be very frustrating, and you want to give up, but its that very perception that you know something isn’t right that is evidence you have taste, and if you have taste, and you work hard – you can eventually make satisfying work. Being aware of that gap is vital.

It reminds me of advice you get when you start meditating. In meditation we try to rest our attention on our breath, and to keep it there. Naturally thoughts will arise, but the trick is to notice when they appear, and not get carried away by them. We use two tools here – mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness is the ability to focus the attention on the breath – and awareness is the technique by which we realise thoughts are arising or that we are lost in them. It was reassuring to learn that recognizing that you had stopped being mindful of the breath and had been lost in thoughts was important, because it meant you were aware of the situation. Without recognising that, you would simply sit there thinking away and missing the point.

It is the same with creative work. If you were not frustrated by your early work – if you were not dissatisfied, then, quite possibly it is because you are not aware that it is not living up to your standards (alternatively, you might be making brilliant work from the get go – well done you!). Maybe you have no standards, if not you will continue to make poor work. But if you notice that gap – that means you have taste and you are aware of your shortcomings, and this will help you later. But you have to do lots of work. Similarly, in meditation, if you notice time and time again you are drifting into thought this too is important and helpful, but you need to then put in the hours on the cushion and develop the ability to stay with the breath.

Armut

I am submitting a proposal to Dublin City Council to erect a monument to commemorate the recent visits by Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama. “Steel Barrier No. 1” will be located in a public place to remind us of these special few days when we walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our distinguished guests. It is my hope it will become as iconic to the city as Daniel O’Connell, The Spire and Patrick Kavanagh looking miserable.


Steel Barrier No.1 (Steel and Concrete) – R. Murphy – 2011

Image and Meaning

The Guardian reports on an attack on Andres Serrano’s controversial image “Immersion (Piss Christ)” at the weekend in Paris. Since its creation in 1987 the image has attracted the ire of Christians around the world who see it as a piece of risible blasphemy, and its appearance in Paris has continued this, with protests, death threats and an eventual physical attack on the piece itself.

The photograph is of a crucifix floating in a jar of the artists urine.

The artists says it is a:

criticism of the “billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry” and a “condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends”

Which is a noble cause, but those who object to it presumably don’t see it as such a critique but as an attack on their God.

It occurred to me however that what these people are actually angry about is not the image itself, but the idea of the image. Imagine the photograph was called “Immersion (Christ)” and the artist never revealed how he had created it. Would it get near as much attention? I think its a beautiful image, and I wonder if people never knew anything about it, would they too see the beauty? I’m not offended by it, but I can see why people are offended by it, but are they offended by the image or how the image was created?

In the classic “Ways of Seeing” John Berger commented

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. […] The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe

Berger pointed towards Magritte’s The Key of Dreams to highlight this “always-present gap between words and seeing”

Later on in the same essay Berger presents us with “Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh”

And then presents it again with text below.


This is the last picture that Van Gogh painted before he killed himself

And states:

It is hard to define exactly how the words have changed the image but undoubtedly they have. The image now illustrates the sentence.

Any initial attraction or appeal Piss Christ might have for those who are offended by it is evaporated once they know about what it is. The image now illustrates the event.

It reminded me of the furore over the Muhammed cartoons controversy. What if those images had been printed with no captions? Do they become offensive at the point you know they were meant to be something? Is the now famous image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban only offensive because the author said it was Muhammed. What if they had never said that? The image loses all power.

***

Magritte famously painted a picture of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe)

The point being that it is not a pipe, it is a picture of a pipe. Often we mistake the word or the sign for the thing itself. We then become obsessed with the sign and not the real thing. As Alan Watts said:

You don’t eat the menu

***

But this is kind of digressing. Of course as people we see the world then immediately label it. Most of us never see the world clearly as it is without filtering it through the prism of our egos, which is influenced by culture, upbringing, language etc. But this is brought into sharp focus by something like Piss Christ. So much of our relationship to it comes from what we know and think about it, not what we see.

Finally, on the point of attacking the image, which is now “beyond repair”, surely in the modern world of mass production and Warholian art we can simply reproduce it? Run off another one? And again, by destroying the image they are not destroying what is actually offensive which is the idea. And once the idea is out there, how can you destroy that?

UpStart 2011

During this years General Election in Ireland, a group by the name of UpStart ran a fascinating campaign of public art exhibition. Gathering submissions from the public in the form of text, photography, art and design, they published and placed a series of election-style posters throughout Dublin City.

In their own words:

UpStart is a non-profit arts collective which aims to put creativity at the centre of public consciousness during the Irish General Election Campaign in 2011. We plan to do this by reinterpreting the spaces commonly used for displaying election campaign posters in Dublin City.

The result was a wonderful celebration of art in public, and one that went some way to counter the deluge of inane political statements that screamed at us from the top of lamp-posts. It was great to see so many works of art dotted throughout the City, sitting side-by-side with the usual electioneering. It was even better to see so many people standing in the street, staring up at them, heads tilted to the side contemplating their meaning.

As well as being a huge fan of the project, I was also lucky enough to have a piece selected. Thanks to UpStart brightening up our streets and thanks for allowing me my own little piece of a lamp-post.