September 4, 2017

Excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART


The other aspect of my original idea was that artists had a lot to answer for in terms of our cultures over-emphasis on the individual. The idea of the solitary artist, pushing alone against the stagnant conventions of society, against the status quo, was in so many ways at the root of the problem. When I write this I am mainly criticizing myself. Even though I have dedicated the bulk of my artistic life towards collaboration, as I get older it becomes increasingly clear to me just how internally divided I am across the chasm of these questions and difficulties. This is probably the deepest, most pernicious contradiction in my ongoing work with PME-ART: that I want to be a famous (or at least semi-famous) individual artist and, at the same time, I also want to work collaboratively in a manner that often teeters on the brink of pure collectivity. This contradiction is very much present in the writing of this book.

Western narratives are so often about one lone hero, rather than about a group or collective. The improbable eighties Hollywood action hero, one man endlessly fighting off armies of opponents and in the end prevailing, is a pure cartoon of everything that is wrong with our thinking around how things change and how injustice might actually be defeated over the course of a long struggle. And artists are also so often at the centre of their own ridiculous cartoon, with (in the case of more successful artists) a lot of praise and encouragement to prop up this personal mythology. Knowing this does not automatically help me pull myself free of anything. So much of my life might be described as self-awareness without change. Earlier I wrote that the decision to reinvent myself as a novelist had something to do with mortality, with wanting to leave something behind after I die, but it also must have had something to do with the pleasures of working alone, with accepting the ways in which I’m an introvert. Of course, even as a novelist I don’t really work alone. I have an editor and a publisher. My books (this one included) would not exist without them.

There are no individual solutions to collective problems. Nonetheless, it is individuals who must come together and figure out what to do. In all of this, there is the unaddressed question of leadership. The anarchist in me genuinely believes rotating leadership is a solution, people take turns taking the lead in the areas of their greatest competence. Another similar collaborative idea might be: best idea wins. But art is so subjective, and for five different people five different ideas might each seem best. It has always been my thinking that if someone in the group feels strongly that we should do something, then we should do it, their strong desire shouldn’t be watered or sanded down by the democratic entropy of the group. I want the projects to be open enough to welcome the strongest impulses of each of the participants. This is my ideal, and like all ideals it is something I often fall short of achieving. Perhaps it is not even an ideal that is best for every collaborative situation. In a sense, it is just another way of saying that I want to work in ways that are deeply collaborative while at the same time keeping our most intense individual artistic differences more alive than alive.

[Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART is a new book I'm currently working on which will be published by BookThug in Spring 2018.]


"And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them."


This manual encourages us to find out what happens if we don't deliver. If we don't give students the standard slide show, but instead make them take off their socks and rub their feet with mustard.

We know that spicy feet will not be an instant salvation, but we believe in going outside, in using our bodies and not only our brains, in absurd interventions, in silly jokes, in creating atmospheres, in learning in the gap, in destabilizing our position, in talking about money. We believe in letting things go so wrong that thinking about them ten years later still makes our stomachs hurt.

Because this experimentation is more relevant to us than mindlessly repeating what doesn't work: breeding generations of artists, who religiously believe in self-expression and individualism but look the same, think the same, act the same. And whose work has no impact on their lives or the lives of the people around them.

- Teaching for people who prefer not to teach