PRICELESS

An artist noticed a critic looking on as he put the final touches to a piece he’d been working on for some time.
“I’d love to have your opinion,” he said stepping back from his canvas.
“It’s worthless,” replied the critic bluntly.
“Oh, that’s alright,” retorted the artist. “I’d like to hear it anyway.”

It was Oscar Wilde who once said that we all live by selling something. This is true brilliance. True because it’s bang on. Brilliant because it was said by Oscar Wilde. Chances are he wrote it. Still, remarkably apt in its time and more so today as we impassively slap bar codes onto all things tangible and intangible. That which we see, touch, hear, smell, taste or imagine invariably has a commercial value of sorts. There seems to be a captive market for almost anything these days. It’s endlessly fascinating and at times quite baffling.
We each live in a eco system where we feed our needs and desires on a daily basis, often not giving terribly much thought to the question of real value. We simply trade time and effort for commodities and comforts and expect that they pivot more or less around a point that is, or is close enough to,“market related value”. If the cost deviates dramatically, we basque in the glory of having snatched up a bargain or sullenly begrudge the fact that we’ve just been gouged.
Rarely do we deconstruct the items we consume and meaningfully evaluate, “What is it worth?” Not “market value” worth. Really worth.
It’s an outrageously complex question which most times has a frustratingly hypothetical answer, but deserves a little exploration nonetheless.

Case in point, a global staple like a pair of jeans. So you’re about to invest in the most essential of wardrobe essentials, and need to make a savvy choice.
Let’s strip it down to the nuts and the bolts and consider materials. Right, so there’s denim which has a value per meter across a range of qualities, and I’ll put this particular quality at “aloofly premium” but not quite “Kardashian”. Upmarket, but not vulgar or at a point where you’ll lose sleep because there are children going hungry in Africa. Add to that some respectable hardware (buttons, rivets, YKK zippers) plus the invisible etceteras like thread and fusing…and voila, we have the components. Then there’s the question of labour. Labour includes construction and, because any great pair of jeans hits the shop floor looking like a hand-me-down that’s survived three generations of hillbillies, multiple washes and treatments….often manually applied. Now, there’s a huge saving to be had whipping them up in a condemned building somewhere in Bangladesh or war torn Pakistan, as opposed to lovingly crafting them in one of the few remaining factories in comfort of the homeland, where the workers take a 45 minute brunch break in order to enjoy a well deserved $22.00 smashed avocado on sourdough and a soy latte. More profitable despite the fact that they would need to be packed and shipped half way across the earth, clear customs, be insured, transported, warehoused, delivered and handled repeatedly along a lengthy pipeline until they finally reach their point of sale. Of course, it’s a tricky business keeping across where products are in fact manufactured, but surely when you’re paying top dollar for a luxury brand it would retain it’s integrity and not be “proudly produced” somewhere in the armpit of rural China? Right Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Coach, Longchamp, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs and that Italian brand that the devil apparently wears that rhymes with enchilada?
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of branding….well this is the game changer, because attaching a happening identity to any product immediately makes this entire discussion academic, as this particular garment is no longer worth the sum of its parts, but rather what the Fashion houses, advertisers and likes of the next door Jones’s tauntingly imply it’s worth, knowing full well that the less affordable it is, the more you’ll just have to have it. What’s worse, the moment you acquire it, it plummets in value as Alain De Botton neatly explains, “The quickest way to stop noticing something may be to buy it – just as the quickest way to stop appreciating a person may be to marry them.”

Confused? We’ve only just begun. We haven’t even touched on the fact that this very pair of rip-torn skinnies will sell for half the price in Africa that they would in America, which is still less than in Australia but as least three and a half times as much as anywhere in Asia. Yes, you could argue that it’s all relative but trying to calculate parity inclusive of global macro and micro economics would have us all in an Inception style spin, and it’s just a pair of jeans for the love of God!

Bottom line, we’ve created a world where the value of an entity is arguable, but the price is simply worth what someone is willing to pay.

Which brings us to Piero Manzoni, one of the biggest blights this world has known. Why? Well because the art world has been damningly complicit in supporting a culture of ludicrously randomly perceived value at the expense of all reason and Piero Manzoni is arguably the worst of them. So in 1961, Piero, the son of a cannery owner somewhere in Italy, decided to stimulate his own art movement. I say this quite literally. He filled ninety 30 gram tins with his own freshly produced excrement and labeled the tins “Artist’s Shit” or “Merde d’artista” in Italian, which never fails make things sound more exotic than they really are.…as well as in English, French and German. From this we can tell that Pierro was cautiously optimistic that his product would have global market appeal. This was not a confidence ill deserved. It so happens that he was right on the money, because there are, believe it or not, bigger tools in this world that Piero Manzoni, and these are the marvels who gave Pierro prime real estate in several esteemed galleries across Europe, and managed to hype his “work” so that that several tins were eventually auctioned at Sotheby’s and Christies for way more that their “market” value…and there’s please God not a sizeable market for this sort of thing. Turns out, there are EVEN bigger baloonheads than Pierro, the gallery posers AND the elitist curators and auctioneers put together. Those are indeed the lucky buggers who, winner-winner-chicken-dinner, have shelled out anywhere between 124 000 Euros and 182 500 Pounds a tin and were giddy with elation as the hammer crashed down. Equally giddy was Pierro, a “struggling” artist (and I’ve no desire to describe the images the term conjures in Manzoni’s case) who only ever expected $37.00 a tin, which according to the 1961 market value was their net weight worth in gold. Michelangelo must be kicking himself in his grave. Left crippled and crook after years toiling flat on his back under the vast expanse of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, all the while not realising that a short comfort break would immortalise him in the annals (typo?) of human history and would have him pocket a quick buck in the process. Ah, life’s missed opportunities lie strewn across time like panties on the stage at a Justin Bieber concert.

Perhaps we’re being to hard on young Piero. Some would argue that his “contribution” to the art world has, in its rightful context, left a significant mark, or if you prefer, skidmark….and at the very least he has maintained the purity of his brand by resisting the temptation to outsource production to a remote and foreign emerging economy in order to maximise profits. It could well be a cruel coincidence that Piero’s concept was launched at roughly the same time that the value equation began to unravel.
The post war world was one of sensible structure and frugal practicality. Car ads sold cars and not lifestyles, and there was nothing in the home that couldn’t be updated with a well placed hand made doily. Anything more was a sinful extravagance. There were not scores of brands jostling to sell what flowed freely from the kitchen tap and eating out was reserved for auspicious occasions. You could buy a lot for a little, as opposed to the present where you buy a little for a lot, and never seem to be sated with the sum of your life’s acquisitions thanks to the tireless manipulation of the media. Sadly, there seems to be no stuffing this Godzillan genie back into the bottle. The most we can do is, from time to time, just block it out. Take a sabbatical and treasure the guiltless freebies that spark ones joy. Take a walk. Smell the flowers. Kiss a baby. Hum a catchy tune. Smile at a stranger. Seek out the few remaining pleasures that can neither be bought nor sold. Therein lies true value.

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The Unity of Opposites

 

There is a priori that takes us back to the earliest of Greek philosophers who spent inordinate amounts of time trying to unlock the universe’s mysteries. They named this particular theory “the unity of opposites”.
Granted, in todays world it’s about as obvious as Waldo in an nudist camp, but this was some time, in fairness, before we even discovered that the earth was round.

In bold strokes…
“ ‘Upward’ cannot exist unless there is a ‘downward’. They are opposites but they co-substantiate one another. Their unity is that either one exists because the opposite is necessary for the existence of the other. Hot would not be hot without cold, due to there being no contrast by which to define it as ‘hot’ relative to any other condition, blah, blah, blah.”
So we apply this concept neatly to many aspects of our world. Good would not exist were if not for evil. There would be no light if not for darkness. Humility could not be defined in the absence of Kanye West, nor sensibility without the condition we today recognise as Paris Hilton. You get the gist.

It stands, then, to reason, that in order for there to be art, there would need to be its antithesis. There is no noun, however, at least not that I’ve discovered that precisely serves this purpose. The closest adjective would be ‘artless’, I suppose, but even that falls shy of offering sufficient duality to truly describe this opposing disposition. I know that such a state exists, however, because on pondering the condition of being completely and utterly devoid of any artistic quality whatsoever, a face quickly manifests in my mind. One I know well. It’s the face of the man I married. If there is in fact an anti-Christ, my husband would be the anti-Art. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing not to love about the guy. Fact is, there’s not a single artistic atom in his body and it’s  by far his most attractive quality.

This man hardly feels the need to keep up with popular culture. He thinks a Targaryen is someone who shops at Target, and that teens tweeting about “Tay-tay” are in fact referring to an impact crater on Mars. If art were empathy, he would be Ted Bundy. Were it discretion, Julian Assange. Diplomacy, Trump no doubt. We could go on all day. From his engineer’s vantage point he sees life as, and I quote, “A comes before B, 1+1=2, and water runs downhill.” He is a truly fascinating mammal.
I’ve come to know that the only quality he possesses to any extent comparable with his exceptional artlessness is a monastic sense integrity. This moral compass points unequivocally North and never wavers. Not because he continuously strives to do the right thing. He innately, just, does. It’s simply how he’s wired.

Me, I’m a little more creative. Mine is a simple world of necessary things like plotless subtitle movies with ‘great cinematography’, biblically convoluted fantasy novels, deconstructed soy macchiatos and obscenely priced suicide stiletto’s. I must admit, however, despite being a reasonably accountable citizen, I am a lot more inclined to occasionally… colour outside the lines, so to speak, and it has me curious. What is the true nature of the relationship between creativity and honesty?

Now I’m treading lightly here, as it’s not my place to offend, but in just scratching the surface of the cybersphere, there seems to be an abundance of notables on the matter, most bearing out my suspicions. The fact that there have been so many studies on the topic is in itself a little damning.
Research is research, so we’ll disclaim in the fine print that it’s not without exception, but what it suggests in a nutshell is that the term “creative accounting” never came about accidentally.
One such article speaks of creatives as having less intellectual regulation. This is apparently because the dorsolateral prefrontal region of the brain which acts as our censorship bureau is significantly relaxed during the creative process, that is, according to Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely in their Harvard University study, “The Dark Side of Creativity”.
“The reason for this seems to be that creative people can use their creativity to justify their actions in ways that less creative people cannot do. A lot of people, highly creative people as well as self-proclaimed creative people, will balk at this and claim that they are very honest. And it is true that they believe that. That is because their creativity is successful in convincing them that their behaviour is justified.”

This all sounds very academic. Let me simplify it. My engineer husband sees situations as right or wrong, black and white, clearly defined and linear… a bit like an Aubrey Beardsley. I may see the exact same situation as a more of, let’s say, a Jackson Pollock.
It’s easy to choose “right” when the vast galaxy of your selection consists exclusively of “the right thing” and “the wrong thing”. For some of us, however, there is a more extensive assortment of options, like a box of Cadbury Favourites. You know “the right thing” is in there somewhere but it’s awfully hard to find….and when you do, it’s often the Turkish Delight.

Creativity, like most human conditions, exists in all of us to varying degrees, and is something of a primal survival instinct . It took a creative spirit to spark the first fire, bend the first hunting bow and launch the very first season of custom designed loin skins more than a billion imaginations ago. It can be argued that the contribution of the creative has ultimately been to freely explore solutions for life’s diverse challenges. Such a mind may see many more options than a conventional thinker, and still engineer the odd alternative for good measure. To apply this skill opportunistically is sometimes easily done. This is why the world requires balance, where conventionals partner with unconventionals in order to anchor them, give them traction, help them materialise their ideas … and, let’s not forget, keep them honourable. The innovators of both art and science collaborate today as never before to progress our world. The “left brain, right brain theory” is nothing more than a theory, we now know. We all use most of our brain matter but in different measures and different ways.

As for Artless and I, well, we are the proverbial odd couple and a rather compelling testimony for the “unity” of opposites, which attract perhaps in order to bring two incomplete entities to completion. Who knows.

Bad Art

 

Officer Mike Sapienti was first to 10-97 (arrive on scene) at the Zephyr’s downtown, retro apartment as dusk squeezed out the day’s last breath leaving the sky bruised like a 21958 (drunk pedestrian) on an autobahn. Fortune had placed him just three streets down as the static call was dispatched which jolted him so that he was forced to 480 (hit and run) his bacon Royale, a guilty pleasure for which, most days, he’d have surrendered his badge.
He took the stairs and, despite being in uniform, entered unnoticed, gingerly using the skeleton key which had clung lifelessly to his belt eight good years since graduation, closing the door with a cautious exhale.
They’d finally taken the bastard down and he was as 10-45D as a doornail. It all seemed somehow surreal. Eleven grinding months of six day weeks. The code 5 (stakeout) was finally over and the working women of the fractious, grey city could once again resume their nocturnal enterprises with a cold sense of comfort.
Backup was frantically code 3-ing toward the scene (with lights and sirens), but given rush hour’s defiance would take some time to arrive. Officer Sapienti felt a vaguely troubling sense of privilege and entitlement, enjoying a quiet moment in the killer’s lair. He’d, after all, almost single handedly Horatio’d the investigation. Provided he gloved up and nothing was disturbed there’d be no harm in having a quick, sticky beak. The apartment was a studio really, a compact one at that leaving not much out of arm’s reach. A small desk lamp lit the room to a grainy Rembrandt glow, just enough to pry about yet not enough to attract attention. As was expected the place was disturbingly neat in keeping with the Zephyr’s meticulously cultivated profile. Decor? Minimalist. On the corner desk was a leather folio, black. Surely nothing highly 10-36, not just lying exposed with such casual audacity?

He stared at the photos in astonished disbelief. He knew each of them by name, their families, their friends, their lifestyles, their secrets. So many months 10-57 (missing) and now here, individually posed, each in an chilling portrait. Whether the victims were taken to be modelled or whether the photo’s were secondary to the kill was anyone’s guess. He had expected to uncover just about anything in the soon to be infamous apartment thirteen. Anything, but this. Fact was, these were like nothing the young officer had ever before witnessed. Not because the subjects were, well, without being indelicate, stone 10-45D. Rather because the brilliant glossy images were simply … perfection. Original went without saying, but the quality! The composition, the depth of field, the colour saturation, the masterful skill and painstaking detail were all simply breathtaking. They were captivating, bold, and God willing, unique!
The detective immediately recognised that what he held between his chalky, latex fingers was so much more than evidence. It was art, and at that, the very best he had seen.

Mike, born Michelangelo Sapienti , a fact never revealed for fear of becoming the brunt of every precinct party gag, was the son of an established curator. Despite having traded one academy for another and opted inexplicably for a life of service, he had a well trained eye and the utmost respect for the preservation of art.
This left him with a massive moral dilemma and little time to investigate his options.

One, turn the photo’s in to evidence knowing that they’d be filed away for years and subsequently destroyed.
Two, keep the pictures hidden safely away, admired by none, but at least in tact. Eleven months of backbreaking slog had turned over more than enough physical evidence to guarantee a posthumous conviction, and DNA lab would take care of the rest. The absence of the photos would hardly be of consequence.
Three, anonymously send the collection to his father in the hopes that they somehow would find their way to public exhibition to be appreciated, if nothing more, for their faultless execution. The girls had been tauntingly posed in prosaic public locations with such subtle finesse that even the most observant of buffs would fail to pick their lifelessness and whatever misguided social statement the artist was making… and besides, the Gallery was in a world away in the wrong part of London making it unlikely they’d ever be recognised. In a twisted way they’d even be immortalised, which was perhaps the artist’s intention, without condoning of course.
Four, destroy them. If he couldn’t have them no-one could, and besides, knowing that these sublime masterpieces were stuffed in a cardboard box in a government evidence locker was sure to drive him completely 5150. (You guessed it….police code for a crack-monkey mental case.)
And five…well, five simply wasn’t an option.

Officer Sapienti had but minutes to make a decision.

OK, if the tacky tale of the Zephyr killer was a hopeful TV pilot, it would doubtless lie mangled on the cutting floor, fatally slashed and lined in chalk. But this is not it’s purpose. It’s really just a playful scenario thrown out to explore an issue or two. As a civilised society of, we’d like to think, reasonable people, we have developed an insatiable appetite for all things “creative” and “explorative”. There is a diverse and bountiful harvest out there which stretches to the very boundaries of social acceptance, and rightfully a touch beyond, as artists persistently push against convention in order to stimulate social progress, mostly for the greater good. We expect our creative citizens to be imbued with exceptional qualities. Talent and passion, naturally. Ability, sure. Skill and experience, definitely. Intellect, certainly. But what if an artist exceeds all criteria in the absence of moral virtue? Perhaps if we focus on the art as opposed to the artist, if a particular body of work is outstanding in its execution but reprehensible in its message, does that make it any less art than that which we embrace? We could also ask how tolerant we, as a market, ought to be in the face of work that is excessively controversial or offensive and if this prerogative is really ours to have? When does political correctness become censorship in a world where we strive for freedom of expression? Ultimately, at what point is good art so bad that it’s no longer considered art? Some would argue that art should have no limits, but empowering people with a responsibility so immense could well be an epic scale trust-fall!

It was a good idea to take the train home. The ferocious traffic had hardly abated and it was getting kinda late. It seemed he was not alone in his stroke of genius. The carriage was close to rupture with not a lonely seat in sight, apart from the one next to the homeless guy. As he looked drowsily about, he became aware of the commuters around him, the frazzled mother with a squirming Snow Queen Elsa on her lap, the blissed out teen couple snogging obliviously at the back, the sheepish grey suit on the elderly seat feeling noticeably awkward…but clearly not awkward enough. He smiled to himself as he was pleased. Pleased as Lance Armstrong after he’d claimed his forth Tour, snagged Cheryl Crow and produced yet another clean urine sample. Very pleased. The threat of the Zephyr had already begun to lift, and he, Officer Michelangelo Sapienti, may even be a shoe in for a promotion. He was most pleased, however, that on that particular night, he would sleep like the 10-45D, being almost as good as seventy-six percent sure he had done the right thing.

The Expatriates

Two Americans walk into a bar. No, seriously. Truth be told, not any old hole in the wall, it’s rather a notable hole in the wall, known in it’s day as The Dingo. The place is significant too, because you see, it’s Paris, and I should point out that it’s nineteen-twenty-something, so a very different Paris to the one that’s been headlining the news of late. It’s the quaintly gritty, wanton Paris that some years prior had seduced many of the world’s most celebrated expatriate Artists, the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Flaminio Modigliani, who’s spitefully posthumous legacies exploded long after their notoriously tortured and debauched existence.

But these are different days. The days of Le Salon and les bordellos, both frequented by penniless artists driven half mad by the fragile genius with which they painted and the turps soaked rags with which they unpainted, are no more than glassy ghosts and have given way to les tourists nouveaux. This is about the time where the “gay” crept into “gay Paris”, and I’m not talking about Oscar Wilde.

Now there’s only one thing more reviled than an American in Paris, and that’s two Americans in Paris, but at this particular time, the French happened to be remarkably predisposed toward their star spangled guests. Fresh in the minds of Parisians, perhaps, is the great French wine blight where they had acidly resorted to cross breeding their beloved virgin Champagne vine with a somewhat less cultured American rogue in a last ditch attempt to bring it back from the brink….and who wouldn’t be grateful for that, right?  Or perhaps, they have a somehow innate appreciation for the fine artistic talent these particular guests have brought along with their well travelled Shwayder suitcases, for which even their affluent fellow Americans have not yet acquired a taste. The French know Art when they see it, even if it is a pasty, drunk yank passed out on a wonky wooden table. This is their birthright.

So these two young Americans meet for the first time to unwittingly forge one of the most endearing and complex friendships in the history of classic literature, one of them never having completed a novel, the other having had one or two smatterings of success and having just released a novel which despite critical approval is just not translating into sales. He is quoted as “puzzled and hurt that the book was not selling, but not at all bitter, and both shy and happy about the books quality”. They sit randomly among the strangers in the bar and the acquaintances they themselves describe as “worthless characters”, drink away their issues and bond over their burning desire for that pivotal breakthrough which will finally reveal them to the world, and afford them the lifestyle to which they’re both terribly eager to become accustomed. You read of this moment and so wish you could have captured in in a single, solid frame, because this moment, frozen in time, is one of the world’s most beautifully ironic treasures. The two privileged young strugglers are none other than Earnest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the book that just can’t seem to get off the ground is, in fact, The Great Gatsby.

It leads you to wonder just how many fleeting moments have seen many a great mind reaching doggedly for some level of worldly credibility, never daring to imagine that they’re about to conjure that magical something that transcends both time and value. There is an instant of innocence before life’s mysteries unfold that if snapped in a screenshot would be an image of Neil Armstrong as a child staring vacantly at the moon or perhaps the half lit face of the Edison boy in the glow of a bed time candle, drowsily dreaming up new ways to stretch out the day.

Equally beautiful are the uniquely special friendships that emerge almost as byproducts of the creative process. We read of the delicate relationships between fellow elites, the likes of Haydn and Mozart, Van Gogh and Gaugin, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and we find it hard to imagine that these ageless bromances have lived often to overcome poverty, madness, professional jealousy, substance abuse, illness, even death. Especially death. Only they could truly understand the nature of talent they observed in one another and at all costs were driven to protect. Sadly, we know that most of these stories play out like dark and calamitous Shakespearian tragedies.

Fitzgerald is an indulged and peculiar person of questionable physical and emotional stability. He spends daringly and despite the fact that he has a precarious tolerance for alcohol, drinks well beyond his capacity. Most damningly, he marries an insanely jealous and well, perhaps, just quite simply insane woman, who tirelessly undermines his work and in Hemingway’s opinion, sucks the very life from him and brings about the disintegration of his career. He is never able to reprise the masterpiece that is The Great Gatsby. His great nemesis lies not in one of his fellow expatriate writers, but in himself.

Hemingway, on the other hand, makes up in pragmatism what he often lacks in sobriety. He goes on to publish many famous works and laments the demise of his dear if somewhat eccentric friend who despite his best efforts he is unable to save. He immortalises him with deep affection and admiration in his memoirs.

“‘His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust of a butterfly’s wings. At one point he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned  to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.”

 

Quiet Types

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I’ve always been a better thinker than a speaker. In this I’m not alone. Most of us can keep a conversation flowing, sure…but it’s when we retreat back into ourselves and the place where our thoughts incubate and grow into perfect little concepts, so often destroyed by the stampeding chaos of the world to which they’re destined….that we are truly brought to life. The best ideas come from a still place, a warm and perfectly empty space…like the darkest black in which only mushrooms grow. I love that place, yet seem to frequent it less and less. I was a child of a particularly quiet disposition. I watched aloofly as the day whirled around and around me. Never uttered a word unless I felt it somehow necessary. Some concern arose from time to time over my perceived recessiveness, all of course for nought as I was probably the most sated and contented child ever given life. Simply never felt the need to litter this pristine world with meaningless noise.

I don’t quite remember selling out. Somehow, though, I was lured from my hiding place into the tangled racket of daily hubbub and unwittingly evolved into a player. I learned to like the infectious commotion that sweeps us up each day and tumbles us recklessly about until we’re exhausted in every perceivable way. It’s not bad. Not really. It’s an easy place to forget yourself….but therein lies the problem.

We have developed a compulsion to plug every identifiable void with noise, with clutter, with shapes and colours, with and numbers and letters, with anything and everything. So complex a task it is that it leaves us little time to think about that forgotten “quiet place”, or even miss it, because we’re just too “busy”,or perhaps too “numb”. Worse still, as we pump the volume up year on year and saturate our world leaving almost no place remote enough to remain beyond the reach of our vanity, those elusive spaces tragically slip away like melting icebergs and I wonder if some day the shadowy forgiveness of silence will be something of a unicorn.

So I’m killing time and wistfully skipping through the boundless landfill we’ve characteristically sprawled across cyberspace, and I come across a slightly dated yet hauntingly timeless interview with Mark Hollis.

Who’s that? The understated genius behind Talk Talk, one of the rare gems to emerge from the romantic kitsch that was the once 80’s New Wave music scene.

Here is a man who has made his mark on this world with such reserved aplomb that it almost goes overlooked, and wouldn’t have it any other way. His minimalistic indifference immunes him to the flippant distraction of popular culture and allows him to filter his influences with such clarity that his creative process remains almost completely untouched, and the result is something uniquely exceptional. In listening to him speak, I realise that what sets him apart is less his ridiculous talent than the simplistic integrity of his character.

It truly gives me pause.

He says this.

“Before you play two notes, learn to play one note….it’s simple as that really….and don’t play one note unless you have a reason.”

As I listen on, I realise that in our pursuit of a certain manufactured sophistication we have abandoned the childish simplicity of placing block upon block and freely opening ourselves to playful bottom up discovery.

He talks humbly of sitting in front of an open fire and simply staring at it, and how he loves watching the form and movement of water. He gently suggests that when we listen to music, we should listen alone and extremely quietly.

I have a sudden urge to deconstruct everything in my life.

He continues….

“I can’t imagine not playing music but I don’t feel the need to compose or create it. I’m really quite happy just to play one note and hit it at different volumes and see how long it resonates before it stops.”

Immersed in his words I’m taken back to the tranquil place I so rarely go, and man, it’s so damned good to return if even for a few short moments.

He then finishes.

“I like silence. I get on great with silence. I don’t have a problem with it….but if you’re going to break into it, try have a reason for doing it.”

You have to love this guy!

He shares these thoughts in 1998 just after the release of his solo debut album, tastefully titled Mark Hollis. Allmusic calls it, “Quite possibly the most quiet and intimate record ever made.”

Then, true to his word and his artistic integrity, he bows out from the music industry altogether and raises his two sons in the breathtaking isolation of the English countryside.

And for that, Mark Hollis, a deafening ovation!

“Ein Käfig ging einen Vogel suchen.”

“A cage went in search of a bird”….not mine, sadly. The intellectual property of Franz Kafka, one of the world’s chosen few who thought for a living.

It came to mind after reading your most recent, and in fact, several of your previous reflections. This concept of stalking that ghostly, elusive piece of expression that separates those innately masterful from, well, the rest. An inspired idea. An entrancing image. An arrangement of notes that effortlessly strike at the soul. The something that in the clutter of our lives makes us pause for a moment, and forget ourselves.

1505 A Cage Went in Search of a Bird

In this flippant, throw-away world these gifts are increasingly rare. We generate appealing images. We flood the airwaves with contrived and auto-tuned collaborations which are designed to be little more than a distraction, until we sell the next one….and the next.

Thing is, the burning question in my mind has always been… was true art ever meant to be sold?  Traded?  Marketed?

Case in point, the cage, the bird. The bird is revered because it is free and real, and radiant in it’s natural space. So, like all objects of beauty, it ignites in us a desire to contain and own it, yet the moment we achieve this, the bird is rendered valueless. This puts advertising into a truly paradoxical space, much like the Kafka aphorism. How does one stimulate raw, naive, artistic innovation and not destroy it by making it a commodity. Or perhaps that’s giving advertisers a little too much prestige? It struck me that advertising could very well be the cage itself.

I strongly believe that the creations beyond value in this world have all been born of a burning passion so compelling to the artist that they toiled relentlessly to give life and form to an object of such rare significance that it’s perfect delivery was simply not optional, and that no sacrifice nor expense would be too great a burden. Death itself would have been a simple inconvenience. These were not ideas to be taken to market. In fact, many a starving artist perished in the cold darkness of poverty and irrelevance not because their audience were not yet sophisticated enough to receive them, but because the very genius they were cursed with gave them the inclination that the divine essence of the force that drove them would be rendered valueless if put out for public consumption. Kafka himself instructed a friend to burn all of his writings upon his death. I guess he just didn’t want his little bird to be caged. His friend, of course, industriously defied him giving us access to his deepest personal reflections. Now Kafka’s a thing. He wouldn’t have minded, right.

Right?

Written by my sister,
CeliaJCameron