The Free Artist?
Here are some dictionary definitions taken from https://www.merriam-webster.com/ pertinent to the enquiry:
Artist (various – including):
- one who professes and practises an imaginative art
Free (various – including):
- not costing or charging anything
- having the legal and political rights of a citizen
- enjoying civil and political liberty
- enjoying personal freedom: not subject to the control or domination of another
- free to do whatever [one] want[s]
- determined by the choice of the actor or performer
‘The free artist?’ as unit of meaning
In consideration of this subject, I started with a mind-map (please see PDF) so as to explore differing ideas to do with the phrase the free artist, and noting the crucial addition of the question mark ‘?’ at the end of the phrase – a mark of punctuation that introduces, at the very least, an element of vitality to the enquiry. Keeping in mind some of the potential definitions of this term – free artist – with its component words ‘free’ and ‘artist’ with their cross-cutting, interconnecting and at times divergent interpretations (‘artist’ / ‘con-artist’) and upon which, as previously noted, I have also reflected via Merriam-Webster online, I came up with the following words and phrases as starting points for reflection:
- soul, body, freedom to be, mind and community.
It also occurs to me that the use of the definite article ‘the’ is of note. Indeed, with the structure of the phrase ‘the free artist?’ being made-up of the definite article, an adjective, a noun and a question mark (the latter indicating an interrogative clause or phrase), a rich vein of reflective evaluation opens-up. The definite article ‘the’, particularizing a member of a group or class which, for us, we are terming ‘free artist’, is immediately followed by a question mark, a point of query, an indication of interrogation. So, here we have an entity we are calling free artist, a distinct body, that has no sooner been defined in terms of the possibility of its having a specificity of identity, that is it then subject to question, to interrogation, to an act of critical assessment that, by extension, can call to question the very meaning, status and value of its being: certainly a lively point of departure for further reflection.
Perception and perspective
As stated above, I have five tangents leading from the phrase free artist placed at the centre of my mind–map, namely soul, body, freedom to be, mind and community. I approach these terms in relation to how they may inform and or relate to ideas to do with the free artist with a sense of interrogation. As discussed above, one is prompted to question understandings around concepts of the artist, around concepts to do with the state of being free, of things being free and, also taking my words-of-interest into consideration, concepts concerning the significance of these five tangents of study in question; they themselves are subject to enquiry.
As a member of a community of participating artists, I’ve been invited to contribute to a discourse about the overarching theme of the free artist as a common focus for our analysis. Accordingly, I pursue this reflection from the point of view of personal perspective – as an artist. I do this, perhaps arbitrarily since one could equally attempt to put one’s self in another’s shoes so to speak, as might a biographer, a psychologist or as a teacher. The endeavour of exploring ideas pertinent to our given theme yet undertaken with the professional detachment of the interested observer may be every bit as relevant to gaining new understanding as is the exploration undertaken by artists themselves and for a variety of reasons: the biographer will examine, the psychologist will analyse, the teacher will educate. Perspectives offered as to different phenomena to do with the study of art and art making will of course have value. Furthermore, one may be both artist and biographer. Lines of enquiry opened–up in circumstances where there is a certain interdisciplinarity of role at play, notwithstanding there being the need to be clear as to which hat one is wearing at a particular moment perhaps, can and should be acknowledged as a valuable way of gaining new insight. Nevertheless, I have been invited to participate as an artist. As such, I come to the enquiry with a sense of self-determination – to acknowledge Merriam Webster with its differing delineations of the artist – as to my relationship to art making. In so doing, I’m well-aware that what I choose to focus on will be selective – and no less selective necessarily than the focus of one who would identify as something other than an artist. Be that as it may, affording myself self-respect as an artist as someone with a definable voice and that I believe has value to be listened to need not necessarily be a limiting factor. Moreover, contributing a point of view forming part of a creative symposium shared with other artists, it is helpful to recognise that our views expressed are, in turn, curated by one who is, herself, an artist and one of considerable experience and insight. In this context, it may be said that the dialogical interplay of ideas itself becomes an artistic act; born, perhaps, of a certain freedom to be.
Free Artist – mind-mapping
sensuality – touch, taste, hear, see, smell
discretion – dignity; balance; respect
realness – all knowing; ontological
to be – the man I am
no pay / no cost – do what it takes to survive and thrive
to speak – for myself; for ourselves
forensics – What is there and what does it say?
logistics – How does composition work?
connections – Where does the road lead?
education – What is an artist? What does it take to be one? What does art do for us?
support – for artists, for people to learn art
power – emerging; establishing; consolidating
belonging – to all; to myself; to the earth
togetherness – talking; listening; making
universe – in a grain of sand; molluscs & meteorites; beyond walls
Praxis – action and reflection
For further deliberation, I’ve selected one of three subsets of ideas leading from each of the five strands of consideration resulting from the mind-map exercise. I enjoy using starting-point ideas as a springboard towards imaginative and analytical thinking. Starting somewhere is necessary. One might suggest it helps to move from a blank canvas to first marks–made and from there on to color, shape, dimension, tone and composition. Of course, the canvas is already far from blank, even when appearing so. Even with a state of apparent blankness, the state of being ready, willing and able to mark the canvas is there. So, having started with the phrase The Free Artist? at the centre of my canvas, as it were, and from where I then move with imagination to action and mark-making, existing frames of reference, perennial areas of interest, abiding questions and favored sates of being are all brought to bear on the creative process. And imagination serves as a dialogical process. As I ask a question in development and then offer an answer through my action, the reflection that follows also speaks to me, reminding me of cares, concerns and qualities of experience that interact with the moment of action taken. Furthermore, as with action expended, reflection is not solitary either. The voices of those with whom I’ve lived and learnt will also chime as the happening of praxis plays out. There is a certain collectivity of the voice with action and reflection. As Senator Kamala Harris pointed out when in conversation with comedian Sarah Cooper (https://youtu.be/QfU7O2ghg3k), that when you walk into the room looking like, sounding like and being who you are, it’s not even about you as such but it’s about being that voice for others with whom you have kinship and identification. Yet, I also return to the initial theme of the making of the mark, the first mark – however charged with resonance it may be. It seems to me that being bold and curious enough as an individual to put something down on paper, so to speak, trusting the process of seeing where it might lead, is a vital and worthwhile act. As such, I’ve added some thoughts – some marks – below around our theme of the free artist (?).
Community>education>What is an artist?
An artist has an idea and fashions that idea into form. If the idea is of the color yellow, the form that follows will live the color. To live the color, the form must live: we’ll need for the ochre to have body, the lemon to have zest, the sun to have heat and the primrose to feel like spring. We can ask if the yellow we create just is, or is it representing. Does yellow stand as a co-equal branch amidst a trio of primary colors or is it out there on its own? We’ll anticipate that our yellow takes its place in space and time. Yellow is my friend. And, if it’s able to be itself, it’ll make room for a world of being.
As an artist, I enjoy teaching and as a teacher, I enjoy making art. I appreciate the validation of the one by the other. The pedagogy of art making takes form as a state of being and the artistry of teaching reveals a state of knowing, a condition of existence.
Free>to speak>for myself; for ourselves
I speak. It’s a sentence. As short as it is, it’s a unit of complete meaning – though, what meaning exactly may be open to question. If I sit, straight-backed, draped solely in bronze-toned organza, perched a-top a rocky out-crop, gazing out to sea and I utter the sentence I speak, one or other interpretation of meaning may be available. If I stand, ragged-limbed, leaning heavily amongst a queue of figures, eyes downcast under the glare of a malign presence. Then, looking-up, eyes now flinty with defiance, I say, I speak, further elucidations of meaning may present. The brevity or, conversely, the elaboration of an expression may be one thing. Then, the reception of meaning, and contextualized variously this way or that, may be something else again. In terms of creating understanding, we find ourselves in a two–way street at the least, if not amidst an architecture of altogether multifarious passages of significance.
I remember, aged six, one morning in the playground of St Ambrose, a parochial (Catholic) school on Fairfax Avenue in the north central area of the city of Los Angeles and, for some precipitous reason or other, finding myself asking the question: What if I could be in two places at once? Perhaps, aged six, I was already a veteran of needing to disassociate, to be present and absent at one and the same time, to be here and someplace else. Or maybe, setting the possible imposition of past trauma aside, I was just plain curious. Around the same time, but back at home in Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, I asked myself: If I were to go to the edge of the universe, what would be beyond? For some reason, though I can’t quite remember why now, but it seems from the sensation I have of that past that the notion of there being a point just beyond the boundary, a point just outside of a designated perimeter, was met with some degree of bluster and push-back. Yet, the idea of an ending, a last stop, a place marked keep-off-the-grass, marked défendu, a place that, de toute façon, doesn’t even exist, seemed to me to be folly. And, I trust my intuition. Out there is a place marked freedom.
A side note: I think I resort to French here because, at a formative time, spending a period in Paris in my late teens, it was my learning and use of French and the hearing of it used with that quality of emphatic deliberation that gives it such great vivacity, that has given me a sense that the language is there for me to make use of and enjoy.
Moreover, both Los Angeles and Paris were beyond for me. As such, their impact as places where questions were asked, where impressions and insights were gained seems germane to a reflection on the concept of beyond, of elsewhere.
Body>realness>Ontological – adjective:
- relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being: “ontological arguments”
- showing the relations between the concepts and categories in a subject area or domain: “an ontological database”
Diving–in, there is the ‘problem of how an event like John eating a cookie relates to the particulars John and the cookie, and the relation of eating, assuming there are [such things as] events, particulars and relations.’
As considered above with I speak, with the cookie that is eaten by John, we’ve variables at play. The sentence I speak offers a panoply in terms of what may or may not be meant and understood. Similarly, our friend John – the John who eats, the John that eats a cookie – offers much to contemplate. Right there, I’m calling John a friend. Prompted by the effect of my imagined elicitation of his assistance in an examination of meaning, he has become something of an ally – at least in my mind: presumptuous, right? I mean, we’ve not met, but I’ve heard a lot about him. There I go again. I’m now playing fast and loose with gender. I don’t know John’s gender. The probability that subjectivity and objectivity will have even a fighting chance of being understood with respect to what is, with what is fact and what is fiction, with what or who John may be – and let alone to do with what then happens with cookies – is already careening dangerously, like a sports car on a mountain pass. But as an artist I can, at the very least, scratch-out a chalk–mark on a rock–face for others to see and we can then discuss. I say but as an artist, not to be bullish about the artist’s right to do it their way as such – as if the act alone solves anything. Rocking-up, say, with a wistful double–pirouette or a winsome pen and ink of ripened fruit need not, in of itself, take us any closer to explaining how to ‘puzzle’ out the meaning of things, things such as ‘thought’ and ‘reality’, for example (4.6: ibid). Yet, in taking some time, in allowing some space, in making the mark and, then, living the experience of what happens in consequence, we participate in the very flow of existence, in certain ways absorbed and enmeshed with what may be known about being, about the movement of being.
Mind>connections>where does the road lead?
Perhaps because I’ve been out of London and in the country for much of the past month, I’ve been thinking of the seasons changing, of times of activity and times of reflection – mindful of the times in the year when things appear to be happening in nature and when, at other points, the land and its vegetation is somehow at rest. Over the past decade, since working in an institutional environment, August has also become a time of rest for me. It’s a point in the year when I can disengage from needing, perpetually, to be hooked-in to what the professional and institutional framework requires of me. There is opportunity to allow the mind to float, to go where it might, as it were, and to alight on whatever ideas or areas of interest may present. Of course, other responsibilities – scheduled or otherwise – persist. There are family-related commitments, there are friends to make time for, there are projects outside of obligation as such but that one seeks to accommodate because they matter in some sense or other. Nevertheless, one is aware of a sense of down-time when the mind and the body, and as is the case with the land itself, do their own thing – between spring and harvest – and it’s a helpful time for the start of something new, but new in the sense of inception – of the ground being laid by the mind having time to replenish and make space for new growth.
In farming contexts, land will lie fallow so that the ground may be restocked and newly enriched before being then replanted for crop growth. In a certain way, the time spent in quieter contemplation, in sitting by water and under trees, by breathing out deeply, has the effect of rekindling the self so that creative thought and the buoyancy necessary to take action as time unfolds becomes better enabled. I should acknowledge, in passing, that I’m not focusing on the season of winter, such that might be more associated with ideas to do with sleep, hibernation and fallow states. I could do. Yet, late summer also feels right for this concentration on stillness, on pause and on study and as that is the spell we are in, that’s the time I’m drawn to consider.
In any case, as I think about the idea of the road ahead and of where it will lead, where my mind will lead me and in conjunction with the interpolation of my body’s ability to act, to translate thought into deed, the notion of fallow time before production seems relevant; just as the interrelationship between action and reflection / reflection and action does from the perspective of the balance between the concepts of gestation, journey and arrival when thinking of ‘praxis (n.) translating an idea into action’ (wordnet.princeton.edu).
The heart wants what it wants, as the expression goes. If my intention is to retain that long-familiar sense of myself, the sense of being perennially tapped into the creative impulse so that, at the moment of release, the gesture is liberated and the mark is made, then I would venture that is my prerogative. Surely, it’s an even chance at most as to whether one should first seek approval before making the mark, before embracing the emancipatory act of liberation. Certainly, custodians of good taste, gatekeepers of protocol and quality assurance managers of best practice may all be well-placed to advise. Those seeking to publish creative testimony may be counselled to take note of critical deliberation as to the value of said testimony. There may be many circumstances in which it would be prudent for those seeking to be seen and heard by means of the artistic assertion to be encouraged to reflect, at the least, on the possible effect of their declaration – lest assumptions should be made as to its quality and the relative likelihood of others’ willingness to receive it. People may be ill-advised to presume themselves and their work to be one thing if their public perceive something other. Confusion may ensue; a plethora of unfortunate outcomes – loss of face, loss of income, loss of hope – may result. In circumstances where tutelage, guidance, mentorship or even redirection, for example, would be beneficial, the exchange of ideas so to enhance the making of art and its experience, in terms both specific and general, might well be urged.
But, at the indispensable moment of inception, as one ventures forth to act, fortified with whatever means may or may not be at one’s disposal, the time for action will be at–hand. At such a moment, critics and naysayers may, at a minimum, be reminded as to the value of circumspection. The skill of knowing when to keep quiet and mind one’s own affairs may well be in play. A Liverpool term for police is ‘bizzy’ – perhaps short for bizzy-body. For those who’d seek to arbitrate, to police in the arena of creative endeavor, it may likely be best to know when to exercise caution, when to avoid a sense of entitlement with respect to how busily involved one should be in others’ concerns; there being no sense, in of itself necessarily, to cause offense, to provoke avoidable vexation or a stymieing of others’ creative enterprise.
Otherwise, and noting one young woman’s conversation with a friend overheard at lunch in McDonald’s Oxford St one afternoon, one might run the risk in taking on the role of judge, at a bare minimum, of being well and truly schooled, as was laid-out by the woman to her friend as to what she’d felt compelled to propose to a mutual acquaintance: ‘Don’t get it twisted, you’re the c___!’, she recalled having suggested.
However messy or otherwise unformed, Neolithic, crepuscular, wet-behind-the–ears, errant, old-hat, desultory, provoking of envy, ground-breaking, pointless, frenzied or, else, tastefully appropriate the gest of art and art–making that may be made; concomitantly, however sincerely-felt, worthwhile, ill-advised, sought for, deleterious, unwelcome, empowering or incidental the reception of said art that, variously, may result in consequence, I’d offer that the notion of the free artist endures.
Nevertheless, with the contingencies of this contention in mind, assessing the interrelationship between art and freedom is complex. The status of the condition of being free, in terms of one or other reading of the concept of freedom, will invariably be at odds with the condition of being an artist and that of art making at one time or another. For the artist, relative opportunity, license and remuneration for the art made or, conversely, the lack there–of will all have an impact on the artist and how their art is generated, supported and received; the various meanings and impositions of the term value – as it may relate to notions of selectivity – can either bolster or bedevil the experience of being an artist and art production.
The perceived value of art to society, to the consumers of art, to the communities of encounter for whom the experience of art and art making will have an impact may vary profoundly according to the parameters of what the perceived purpose of the art is considered to be. Criteria for the valuing of art, for evaluation, will be brought to bear in different ways and at different times so that the achievement of some absolute sense of objective value may remain confoundingly elusive, if indeed, the quest for the absolute – as with the notion of absolute beauty for example – is even to be considered a worthwhile quest in any event. In the face of such complication, choosing to remain somehow aloof and independent from the effects of those who would arbitrate worth has appeal. For the independent artist, the sense of self-determination that accrues from remaining to a greater or lesser extent apart from the conventions of patronage and financial endowment may be significantly enhanced. Yet, as with the notion of self-sufficiency as pertain to ideas of living off the land, the interface of the market, where goods arable and animal are sold and traded in exchange for commodities and services of various sort for reasons above and beyond what is necessary for subsistence, determinations of value to a greater or lesser extent will still have a bearing. Thus, economies of scale, quality assurance, determinants of supply and demand and diminishing marginal returns will all once again apply as artists, independent or otherwise, seek some form of recognition for the consequence of their work.
Where I think the fundamental notion of agency, of strength through self-determination, of the basic liberty to act as the free artist lies is in the very interrogation of the term itself: the question. By asking that the artist be conferred the right to make art, by asking who may grant that right and by what means artists accordingly participate in the realm of creativity, we challenge the ossification of what it means to be an artist, the received wisdom of what it means to make art and the legacy of what it means to receive it. We recognize that art, as life, is in flux and, as with life, art draws us beyond and with the beating heart of existence intact. We may just ask how.
Tim Taylor is a performer, theatre maker and teacher – has broad experience as an interdisciplinary artist. He has worked across many different genres of performance, and for such practitioners as Lucy Bailey, Martha Clarke, Luke Dixon, Matthew Hawkins, Bill T Jones, Michael Keegan-Dolan, David McVicar, Ian Spink, Jane Turner, Jacky Lansley, Ultz, Sian Williams and the Kosh. In 2017, he worked with artists Beech and Thomasson as a performer on their work Together at Tate Britain. In early 2018/19, Tim participated in the touring performance piece About Us, choreographed and directed by Jacky Lansley. In 2019, he worked with long-time colleague Jane Turner to develop Taylor and Turner Taking Turns, a contemporary cabaret piece combining performance with participatory workshop engagement. Since Covid-19 lock-down, Tim has also contributed as a performer to Jane Turner’s film in development Shape Shift.
Tim has been the Programme Manager for Dance at Morley since 2012. Our curriculum offers an eclectic programme of theatre, world, social and fitness-oriented dance study for the College’s part-time, adult education community. Tim is excited to be participating with fellow artists in Jacky Lansley’s online research and consultation project for summer 2020, The Free Artist?