Do or think? Think first, and then do? Don’t think any, but still do according to a formula? In the creative art world that is the question. What Devil possesses you when you are in a creative frenzy? One of your own conjuration, or one that you borrow? Do you follow your own thought process when you ‘do’, or do you ‘do’ according to other people’s established methods? It’s not always easy to determine, especially if the frenzy is led by a form of enthusiasm, or the regular desire to stand original in what we can term the expression of ‘conceptual sovereign signature.’ We all want to have one such, if we have any ambition to create anything via improvisation rather than imitation.
2020 started for me with a wish for more art. The whole of January I thought of ways of making more art. At the time I was making fine art gelatin silver prints, immodestly thinking of channelling Robert Mapplethorpe, a Devil in his own right. But this part was mainly related to sound, rather than image. When he sold his photograph, the famed Man in Polyester Suit, for almost half a million dollars at an auction – a photograph that he didn’t even process himself in the darkroom; one has assistants for that – I could just imagine the sound of the hammer. High art is attached to hot names. I don’t have a hot name, but I have the craft. And it’s as high as the hell Lucifer, lord of darkness and darkrooms sits in. The word photograph actually means, writing with light… How appropriate!
I had these thoughts going on in my head that actually led me to publishing a photo book as a talismanic grimoire, Being Besides Myself, combining images of my gelatin silver prints with magic words on how we sense the world with the body and the mind.
At the same time, I also had a dream of the Man in Black in early February. The story of how that went was duly recorded in the form of creating an art tarot, printed by professional printers and ready to be shared as a limited edition of 100 copies since early March. The corona intervened, borders closed, and airmail stopped working. This tarot is still waiting on my table. I’m grateful to the many who showed an interest in the form of ‘I absolutely must have this’. Stay tuned.
But let me recount the story here for the sake of making a specific point about the difference between arts and crafts. The Man in Black, aka the Devil, appeared in my dream. I told him I was thinking of creating a Red Tarot. He said, ‘just do it’. I sat down the next day and did the whole major arcana set of cards in one sitting. The method was oil on paper through the technique called ‘monotype printing’, for which you use oil, or ink transfer. If oil, the texture can be lush. If ink, there’s absorption that makes the paper look like a Rorschach test.
The same day I finished the Tarot, I shared it on social media. The same day this very method inspired others to do their own Tarot. How excellent, I thought. As a method theorist in both my academic life and in my life as an artist, there’s nothing that pleases me more than to see that, if I invent an ad hoc method that combines the processual and the conceptual, it gets to be applied right then and there.
In the world of arts and crafts, the emphasis is on doing, on actions. In the world of art, the emphasis is on ideas. For instance, there’s only so many ways in which a painter can mix the red and apply it to the canvas. But when the painter frames this action with words that go beyond the processual, the work becomes conceptual.
Before I sat down and tried my hand at how the oil would look on the paper, I engaged with the conceptual that led me to a very clear formula: ‘Make it red. Make it in 30 seconds. No edits. It is what it is.’
The Man in Black method of creating art
While still waiting to set a date for the release of the Red Tarot, today I thought of releasing formally the method that’s already been picked up by others. Let me call it specifically, The Man in Black method of creating an art Tarot. Here’s a challenge for you who are creatively bent.
Start with a story. Dream something. Actually dreaming of the Devil makes a good story. Then set out to express some art in any form, be that a tarot deck or a dish. You can change the variables, but you don’t need to invest thinking in this, unless you want to make an original contribution. Changing a variable is changing a variable, not conceptual art, or your original thought. If you need minutes instead seconds for it, then take the time it takes. But be specific. If you need to make it green instead of red, then make it green. See what you come up with.
Lastly, think of the frenzy that goes into it, the Devil you conjure. To make it more interesting, you can think of what class of demons you’re dealing with. Is this a Goetic spirit you’re making a pact with, or are you with Lucifer himself here? If you depart from my tight formula of the processual described here, and fancy throwing your own thoughts into it so that the work acquires your own unambiguous individual signature that’s not under my class of devils, be specific about both, the process and the thought behind it. Frame your work in a strong way. Don’t allow for ambiguity to inform your move, even though being mysterious about it at the suggestive level may appear seductive. If your original thought is strong, it will come across as obvious, making the suggestive pale in comparison.
So, let’s have the formula again, for the sake of keeping an orderly record:
- Dream it (your story)
- Make it red (your color)
- Make it in 30 seconds (your time)
- No edits (your promise)
- It is what it is (your resolve)
I’d love to see what you come up with in your combination of the processual with the conceptual, performing the idea. At the end of the day, you may be lucky to hear a great sound, when the hammer falls, and when you hear others herald you as a brilliant, original thinker and artist. Keep going.