Threadbare Art and Naked truths – the emperor needs new clothes

We live in times where material wealth for many is thinning. I don’t know how many of you recall a children’s story called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? Nuances aside, the vain emperor walks naked through the streets in what he has been told are his new robes, light as air, glossier fine. He has been spun a yarn so to speak; been told they exist and flattered to the point he pays extraordinary amounts of money and walks through the streets to be glorified.  Everybody cheers and claps because everyone else does, because they fear they have missed something, that they are mad or insensitive to the grandeur, or that they will be outcast and punished if they point out what is missing. Only a child speaks the obvious and then everyone agrees. In so much of the art world the craft has become the sale to the loss of substance but unlike this fable it often tells us little new about the naked nature of the human. Could we say similar of politics? Vanity wears away the fabric of creativity but it seems it increases ticket sales. In these times art must say more. In these times when more are finding it hard to clothe themselves, the human must say more.

In the art world are many vain emperors and weavers of yarns that state something you cannot sense the fabric of must have worth. Art as business can lose the art if we fall in lust with the glory over love of the art. During the years of my first degree (in theatre) and after, so many performers were stripping off clothes to stand naked, suddenly the most mundane supposedly made profound. Whilst some powerful, even seminal work has been done with performers stripped bare, for most this seems gratuitous, without relevance or meaning, at times profoundly dull, even desperate. Yet such work filled festivals of the pleading, pretentious and the beige. There was a sense of pandering to the audience most basic instincts, pressure to conform, the shock diluted with every buttock displayed. I ask you now, which would be most shocking for you to view, a woman wearing nothing or one covered in a habeb or other religious covering? Minimalism had become threadbare and unquestioning. Continuums of some attractive graduate plopping stones into a tank or trying to cry ruled the day. Talent and imagination of many I saw eclipsed by the moderate talent of others with greater neediness and / or ego. On the other side were the grand events, the spectacles, housing mostly anaemic art and anaemic artists uninterested in looking at the art, playing the three minute game of talking at each person in the room to see who would be good for them. I recall an event where I spoke to an interesting writer, who had been asked what she did by way of introduction by someone else –  he left her as abruptly as he arrived when she told him her day job. There were diamonds in the rough, Aunty Nazi League, for example, bought energy, humour and ideas into the most blinkered exhibit of the egos. That, and being poorly and in fact illegally treated by a theatre company I worked for, paid a 10th of minimum wage to work full-time (though officially part-time) deal with part-time emotional abuse while I ran the office while they were away in Greece, publicized a tour, made a successful funding application on their behalf, ran workshops etc. I exited stage left.  As I return it is to a new stage.

Art to me is a crafting and communication. As a performer, as a poet, as an artist my work has been part of who I am since before I can remember. Yet around 10 years ago I left ‘the scene’ and decided not to be an artist, as if I could amputate that part of my being and still exist. Stifling creativity is like not eating. It is unsustainable. I remained in roles that helped others find their creativity; creative facilitation, applied arts in education and care settings.  I found stories.  Eventually I realized that when I studied anything or processed any lesson in life, poems flowed or art was created. During the pain and the elation of life, while contemplating something of spirit and faith, while studying sustainable enterprise, conflict resolution, human development, while out in the garden, words came. Before each essay came the poems. In work and study in conflict resolution I understand the power of sharing stories.  It is the way I think and journey.   Yet I feel drawn to sharing the path to walking away from my own right to create and share. It was the ego of art I wished to exit.

Sometimes the role I find myself maybe to simply say, like a child, ‘Oy, why is that man in the buff?’