I’ve been making art for my entire life and I’ve never felt more lost. In this, I believe I am not alone.
Do we care enough about art, meaning, the world to admit there is no obvious or effective way forward? That we’re going in circles with an ever-lessening effect? That we’re going in circles but are unwilling to admit it?
The grand excitements of art – the modernist breaks, the new movements, the cataclysms – are long behind us. More recent trends are fleeting at best. The belief in originality is utterly depleted and, more importantly, no longer feels like a worthy goal. All we have now is A LOT, far too much, of everything. A LOT of art, theatre, dance, performance, music, installation, painting, literature, cinema, internet: of every possible type and gradation of quality. More stuff than you could possibly experience even if you lived for several million years.
But we don’t live for even a million years. Our lives are brief and what it means to seize the day is by no means clear. Why must we pretend that we know what to do?
Politics have lost the plot – right wing governments and the ascendancy of the super-rich are the order of the day – and artists are of little assistance. On our current environmental trajectory we believe the planet will not survive. But, if we keep hurtling forward, in fact it is we who will not survive, as the planet steps in to take care of itself. (Then again, it is likely at least a few of us will survive to sort through the wreckage. But we can’t make art for them. They’re not born yet. We must make art for now.)
With this present, and this future, how can one feel that bold artistic moves have any real energy? Conflicted feelings rule the day. Daily confusions of every stripe. Ambivalence is king. Where is the art that strikingly knows it’s own futility but stumbles forward compellingly, anyway, because as an artist you have no choice?
To change anything you have to work together with other people. This is the essential logic behind an art movement, behind a manifesto. To work together with other people you need to line up behind a potent conviction, agree to all run in the same direction, at least until you score the first few goals. There is power in numbers, in clans, clubs and mafias. So why can’t all the artists in the world who feel as lost as I do come together, think about what is left to do and how? There may be no convictions to unite us, but why can’t we unite in the potency of our contemporary ambivalence? In the desire to be honest and vulnerable about where we actually stand?
(An artist who is little more than an advertisement for him or her self is so lost there might be no way back towards meaning. I live in constant fear that this is what I might become.)
I dream of energy, content, value, meaning. Effective left wing populism. The end, or reduction, of alienation, consumerism, war and stupidity. But when you dream you are asleep, and right now I would prefer to be as awake as possible. And to be awake means to admit I have almost no idea how to bring such dreams closer to reality. All roads seem blocked. I have no idea what strategies – in life, politics or art – might be genuinely useful or poetic. I want to be awake, while not losing touch with the knowledge that to stay sane one must continue to sleep and dream.
In fact, I wish to write a manifesto that will admit to everything: ambivalence, conflicted feelings, doing things only for money, humiliation, cynicism, confusion, not being able to tell my friends from my enemies. To admit to everything and find out if anyone agrees. If anyone out there is with me. If such honesty and confusion can mean anything in the current world. If there can be any integrity to it. If it can transform itself into a useful truth.
An artist doesn’t need conviction. An artist doesn’t need to know which way to go. An artist needs talent, naiveté, community and life experience. None of these things are incompatible with feeling lost.
(I would someday like to write another manifesto about how art that is not intrinsically connected to life is of no value. But I feel too lost to enter into life. I’m an extreme case. I can’t find the way in.)
Of course, about such things one doesn’t write manifestos. But perhaps we should find a way to start.
[ You can also read the French translation by Simon Brown here.]