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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Act 3, Scene 9

The narrative began with Act 1, scene 1 on April 10, 2013.
To access all scenes, scroll to blog archive at the bottom of the page.

By this time, a small crowd of curious tourists has gathered to enjoy the commotion. Glancing around, Whiten instinctively throws a protective arm around the pathetic Dugh – after all, how different is this situation from the many that have involved artists of her acquaintance at home and elsewhere? – a few  of whom could be labelled eccentric only as a kindness – men and women artists of varying degrees of physical and mental health, and cleanliness too. To be an artist is to embrace differences.

Murmuring comforting words, she and Boyle shepherd Dugh to a bench in the shade of the pavilion. 

Dugh, are you here alone? 

Dugh (wiping his eyes with the back of a hand)
Woman is here. She makes carved pictures in cave. I make pictures with burnt sticks and coloured earth. But woman, Maaah, is with other man. Man in big hat shows woman box that makes many pictures, says he will buy food and drink. She is with him drinking wine, getting loud, speaking in strange ways. I know of chewing sweet plants to feel good, but I do not know wine. This is too much for woman. (moaning loudly) AAaaaaah. Dugh and Maaah must go home. Too many people. All strange. Buildings, boats, noise, everything hurts! I want to show artists how to make beautiful pictures in caves, but there are no caves, no walls. Only caves are in big buildings you call church, and no one lets Dugh and Maaah into these caves.

You can go home anytime you wish, Dugh. We are all here in a kind of dream, a "what if?" kind of story. You know about dreams. All you have to do is wish not to be here, but at home instead, and that will be your reality. That's where you'll wake up. Go home now, and you'll find things as they were, and Maaah will be there too.

Dugh's eyes widen; his tears dry; and as suddenly as he first appeared, he is gone.

Well that was weird. Poor guy. Can you imagine the disorientation if the situation were reversed?

Whew! Poor guy is right. I hope he's as happy to get back home as he thought he'd be. I'm sure it's not a time or place that I would choose. But you know, he made me think of the legacy that stretches back as far as Dugh's time at least ... all artists linked somehow by the passion to make things. There's one more question I want to ask you about this, Shary. It's about newness, invention. 20th century artists seem to have been obsessed with approaching their art in ways that they felt were entirely new. I suppose there's an argument to be made that this passion for inventiveness began as far back as Duccio and Giotto. And I think it's fair to say that most artists of my generation keep looking over their shoulders to see which artists from the past might complain that they are merely quoting earlier achievements, that we have nothing new to say; and they may be right about that. So, for example, although I think that my early work was entirely fresh and new, and certainly it's intent felt distinct from the work of other sculptors, there were those who thought they saw the American, George Segal's work in my plaster casts of body parts. Nonsense, I said to myself, and I was confident that my work was different from his and everyone else's. My point is that artists my age think about this, whereas many young artists I know seem not be concerned in the least with what's been done by others. Appropriating and quoting are quite comfortable aspects of a studio practice now, don't you think? How does that work? I mean how can one happily trundle along making art, not being concerned with the past? What do you think?

Boyle (smiling broadly)
Ah. Well, I don't think you can paint an entire generation with that brush, ha ha. Not every artist my age is totally detached from history, but it's probably fair to say that there has been an attitude shift. Here's how somebody explained the generational difference to me – maybe this is a piece of the puzzle anyway.

You guys grew up being taught to respect your elders, to appreciate what had been done by your parents and grandparents to give you the fabulous material things you were given, the opportunities, the education and so on, right? (Whiten nods)

So, if you didn't feel all that appreciative, or if in fact your elders were not the saints they were supposed to be, this heavy burden of guilt and responsibility kept you from complaining much, at least until the 60s. Your whole culture was about looking back, either in appreciation, or with envy or outright disdain – didn't matter, you measured yourselves against the past. Naturally, that was part of your experience of art too. Your teachers sat you down, showed you slides of paintings by Cezanne, and told you that this was something to bow down to.

Anyway, here's where this guy's idea distinguishes my generation from yours. We were told not to be intimidated by our elders or by authority figures, and all the news about the various kinds of abuse of children explains that attitude shift. We were supposed to stand up for ourselves if some nasty wanted us to do things that we knew weren't going to turn out well. The good news there is that it got harder for these assholes to target kids who'd just tell them to fuck off. But the flip side of that coin is that sometimes we got harder to control – I hate that word, but you know what I mean. Kids I went to school with would think nothing of telling perfectly nice teachers to fuck off. All authority was something to buck against. So, if you think that you are precisely as important as anyone who's older, anyone who has achieved something, then artists of previous generations have no power to intimidate.

And there are other factors that feed into this too. Look how pervasively the digital world has made everything about immediacy. That's new, for you at least. History? What's that, and who cares? Have you heard of this new book The Big Disconnect, by Giles Slade? Part of his argument is that although we may be connecting with more and more people, the actual connections are shallower in nature, and that we are becoming lonelier than ever – maybe another reason to care about yourself in the present (as you tweet 50 "friends" from your smartphone), rather than about others, or what they think.

So, my friend's take on this is that if you ask a young artist if he or she worries that their work has already been preempted by some older artist, they'd just laugh and say "Who cares? Why would you choose to worry about that? I just do what I do."

Hmmm. Well, that's food for thought.