Writing An Artist Mission Statement

So artist-friend, Marie-Reine, advised me that I should read the Artists U book Making Your Life As An Artist http://www.artistsu.org/making/ (it's a free download) and write an Artist Mission Statement.

The book is pretty earthy-crunchy and kind of makes me want to vomit with all the feels. That said, I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. I'm including here their prompts and my answers from the section for writing the Artist Mission Statement.

> When and how did you decide to be an artist?

God, I don't know. Wait, I think I do. Years ago, I had an English teacher who—in class—called me a buffoon. Later my Father—without knowing about the buffoon incident—in a parent-teacher conference—told that same teacher that Mathematics and Science are important and English is frivolous. So what I have are two authority figures—male I might add, if one wants to get all Uranus/Cronus/Zeus or Laius/Oedipus on me—creating the perfect storm for rebellion. 

> Tell me about an early artistic experience that inspired you.

Being taught how Jerzy Grotowski staged MacBeth and passed an actual human head through the audience at the end—I have no idea if that's a true story or not. It doesn't matter. even if it's a fiction—instilled in me is this idea that if you think you're daring, there's someone who will always be more daring than you. If I want to become great, I  must always attempt to outdo myself. Every success I achieve becomes the new measure of failure.

Oh, you want an example of actually experiencing art... 1991 London, West End, Picadilly Theater, revival of The Rocky Horror Show with Anthony Stewart Head and Craig Ferguson... or how about 1991 New York City, Lincoln Center, Six Degrees of Separation with Stockard Channing. What did they do for me? They helped set my personal expectation levels for Musical and Dramatic Theater. If I have to grade a piece of theater on a scale of 1 to 10, I use these two productions as 5s. Not because I didn't absolutely adore them, but because I need to have a consistent scale. So if you have me as an audience member and you want me to see you in a positive light, be better than a West End musical or a Broadway drama.

Oh, then there was when I saw Chuck Close's work in the MOMA in 1997 and took off my glasses and realized how he's painting for the visually impaired. (I don't do a lot of critical reading because I try to experience the art for myself without having people tell me what or how to think of a piece.) It blew my mind how he is successfully creating something to be appreciated by people who are inherently pre-disposed to not enjoy art in that mode.

There's also the time in either 1989 or 1990 when I was in a Walden Books in my hometown's mall, and I found a copy of Sharon Old's Satan Says. She's the first contemporary poet I ever read. Through that book (and let me tell you the look the cashier gave me when he read it as I was buying it), I moved beyond the provincial mindset of Poetry I had been taught (which was fashioned from dead ppoets) and opened my eyes to what modern Poetry can do.

In 1991, I saw a copy of The Sandman issue #32 ; and for the first time experienced Neil Gaiman and artists who would become 2 of my favorite visual artists Dave McKean and Bryan Talbot. Little did I know, at the time, how that whole crew at DC comics were busy re-defining the genre.

I'm sorry, you asked for one. I've digressed.

> Are there any teachers or mentors who were formative for you? How? 

John O'Hara (who directed me as an adolescent in a children's theater production of Alice in Wonderland) taught me how to enjoy the weird.

Kathy Walsh (who was my 10th grade English teacher and 12th grade Poetry mentor) taught me about great literature.

Jerry Collom (who directed me as a teen-ager in Macbeth, Peter Pan, and The Tempest all in the park) taught me how to explore the dark impulses within humanity without fear or judgement.

Peter Shippy (who was my first college Poetry workshop professor who gave me the assignment of assembling a personal anthology of Poetry that I love which I continue to this day and who also instructed a whole class on the much maligned Prose Poem) taught me how to learn from other writers.

Bill Knott (who let me, as a 2nd year undergrad, take an MFA Poetry workshop,  a Modern Poetry survey [in which he made me realize that it's okay to hate an established, esteemed poet], a forms of Poetry workshop, and who asked me to represent my college at a Boston-area, intercollegiate, Poetry showcase) destroyed me as Poet so that I could rebuild having learned but never truly integrating all the knowledge gifted to me by all my mentors.

> Name three artists whose work you admire. What is it about their work and process that you love?

The NY Neo-Futurists. The constant, methodic creation and destruction of work. Before I was a company member, there was  a period where I was going every week because watching Too Much Light is such a personally, affirming experience. Watching them not pretending is a performative manifestation of Flannery O'Connor's famous quote "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

Julie Atas Muz. In 2004 a friend dragged me to see her Rite of Spring at NYC's Dance Theater Workshop. It was the first piece of dance that I ever enjoyed and spoke to me. In that piece she melds together high art technique with low art titillation while also maintaining a self-aware sense of humor. I was theatrically trained to break performance planes or levels... meaning to make sure you're not just standing or sitting but that you're in motion that your expression inhabits different heights... but no one ever taught me as beautifully how to have your material engage different levels of intellect.

Sidd Joag. He does for visual art what Muz did for me for dance. I feel that his art incorporates so many points of view that it engages my mind on several levels (graffiti, theory, installation, community-based, etc.).

> What is the most meaningful project you’ve ever created?

I don't know that I can answer this properly. I think much of my work is about letting go the things I put into them... and the most "meaningful" pieces... Well, I put everything into them; and now, I don't remember some of them at all. Think of my art as an exorcism.

> What is the most meaningful connection with an audience/public you’ve ever had?

I don't know that I can answer this either as I have a general practice of forgetting accolades or laudations. I see a danger in allowing the artist to believe her/is own press. So in truth, I've probably forgotten—or intellectualized to the point of devaluation—the most meaningful connection I've ever had. 

What I will offer is that I recently received an email from a woman telling me how—after a long period of mourning a relationship gone bad—a piece I wrote two years ago showed her how to see herself as beautiful and sensual again. I'd normally try to forget something like that (so it wouldn't bloat the ego), but now that you've made me write about it, you've doomed me.

> If the whole world saw your work, if it was everywhere and kids studied it in school and towns brought it to the village green, how would the world be different? (This gets at the “so what” question. If answers to this start to feel hokey – people would slow down, there would be more empathy – you are on the right track.)

They'd begin forgiving themselves for their faults, sins, and thoughts that are—in any way—less than.

> Next, working alone, write a list of ten words to describe your work. This is the tiny haiku/telegram version of your artist statement. Nouns and verbs are especially good. Adjectives are okay, as long as it isn’t all adjectives. Read these aloud to each other. Steal words from others that you like.

* ephemeron
* condenser
* juggernaut
* extravaganza
* confessor
* self-immolates
* calculates
* assaults
* condemns
* absolves

> Next, write a one-paragraph artist statement in the first person (“I”). It’s easy to transcribe into the third person (“she/he”) later as needed. Use phrases or sentences from the interview that you like. Use some of the ten words from your list (but you don’t have to fit all of them in).

[So here goes...]

I create poems, plays, drawings, photographs, songs, movement-based performance, and multi-genre chimera that harmonize my aesthetic divergence. I employ the mirepoix of the artistic subjects (L/love, D/death, G/god) to initiate commerce between my work and my audience. Stylistically I use accessible but essential phraseology—creating a low barrier of entry—allowing my audience to focus their cycles on thematic intimation. I lead by example; I want audiences to see how I create— using readily available technologies and techniques—and feel empowered to fashion expression from their anima.