Art is Seriously Messed Up

Art is seriously messed up. Smearing pigments across canvas, smudging charcoal on paper, sewing stitches into fabric to create a unique something, carving out chunks of wood or stone to make a likeness of someone or something that maybe never existed. Blowing into a brass tube with holes cut into it, or plucking strings on a wooden vessel to create notes to create something called music, shaping white-hot metal and gluing broken pottery together.

It can be realistic, it can be disgusting, it can be heartbreaking, it can make you laugh. It can be the most unrealistic, otherworldly thing you’ve ever laid eyes on. It can be like looking into a mirror. It can be like looking into every curve and whisper of the human mind and soul. It can be confusing, it can make no sense, it can have absolutely no purpose, rhyme, or reason.

What I think is beautiful you might think is ugly. What you find beautiful I might find repulsive.

It’s messed up, art is.

Art is waking up at three a.m. with an idea, and stumbling out of bed and smashing into the wall because you can’t find the light switch. It’s not being able to find a pen or pencil, and so you write a poem with a crayon on a napkin from the floor of your car. It’s giggling maniacally at what will surely be a masterpiece or slamming your fist in frustration because this isn’t what you wanted. It’s pulling out your hair and drinking obscene amounts of coffee and tea and spending days locked in your house wearing pajamas. Art is quiet and slow and rolling and honest. It takes time. Or maybe it doesn’t. It could take a second, a snap of a camera shutter. It lies. It makes another reality, a better one or a worse one.

We obsess over it. We lose our minds, our money, our lives.

We hold onto art from centuries and millennia and civilizations past, we worship it in glass cases and with cotton gloves and anti-contamination body suits. We study it, teach it, love it, hate it. We argue about it. About the medium used, about the artist who made it, about the year the artist was born and who his/her parents were, about what it means, about where it came from, about the symbols and hidden messages that may or may not have been included within its walls of paint and stone. We spent thousands and millions of dollars collecting it, making it, learning about it.

We judge others based on their art, we value their worth to society with their art.

We scorn artists who can’t make a living at their art and hail the few lucky ones that manage to.

We can be ashamed of our art, keep it hidden and protected like the wounds in our souls. Sometimes no one else ever sees it, and sometimes people see it without understanding it.

Art is everything and art is nothing. It is power, and yet renders us powerless at its feet.

Art is seriously messed up.

And I think that’s why we love it.  

 

Advertisements

The Cenotaph

I’m trapped in this body. Cold metal forms my bones and joints, and the muscle and skin feel like a piece of rail road track to the touch of a soft hand. My arm is locked in an everlasting salute, my blind eyes forever fixed on a spot somewhere on the horizon. I ache. My silent, still heart aches. It burns to swell and grow and pulse. My eyes wish to weep and my arms desire to embrace and my legs want to run again. But that is not what I am meant to do.

In the winter the snow covers me, settles in my bent elbow and my shoulders, my eyelids and the tops of my boots. Blue jays are my only visitors. I can feel their tiny talons and feathers and imagine what it’s like to fly, and miss them when they leave. I am lonely, invisible to the people passing along the street. The frozen torch in my hand weighs the weight of a thousand slain soldiers, and their names inscribed in my cold heart are heavy, so heavy. I carry their memories in my mind, see their lives in my blind sight and hear their regrets in my deaf ears. I cradle them without ever embracing them, holding them, loving them, keeping them safe after death. I remember.

The spring brings warmth, and my metal skin isn’t quite so unbearable to touch. Rain washes away snow and I’m reminded of muddy French trenches in April – not my memories, but the memories of those inside me. Drawing on these remembrances I can see flowers bloom in my sightless gaze and feel arms around me, but I also relive dying moments, so many dying moments. Blood and muck and limbs and terror. They don’t mean to force these memories on me, but I must bear them, and they should be remembered. It is a lot to carry, but I would give this job to no one else.

In the summer I rust a little more, but stand just as straight. Teenagers sit at my feet and smoke stolen cigarettes and call at girls as they walk by, and there’s nothing more I would like to do than kick them with my solid iron boot. They don’t see what I see, blind as I am, or hear what I hear, deaf as I am. They don’t hold the memories of the dead and the gone. They don’t know that behind a layer of metal are the enduring moments of war and horror, barbed wire and gas masks, guns and boys and letters from home, letters they never got the chance to read. I am made of unread and unfinished letters, broken hearts and broken bones.

In these seasons I go unnoticed by all except blue jays and teenagers looking for a place away from parents in a world where war is a game on a screen. No one visits me, no one visits the memories I hold. We are alone in our reminisces.

There is one day in the year when I’m not alone with these memories, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. November eleventh. Every person around comes out and stands shoulder to shoulder, poppies bright over their hearts, their warm, beating hearts. I can feel them, and some of them are aching, too, the ones who remember. The weight of my torch throws out a glass circle and traps them all in my spell, and slowly I release some of the memories in my skin, my bone, my chest. I share with them the things we are supposed to never forget.

They all stand before me, taking in all the things I have to show them. They remember.

Short stories are my one night stands

Short stories were not normally something I could find enjoyment in or share a connection with. Often they appeared to have no meaning or leave me feeling confused about what had happened and why.

Short stories need to be quick and profound.

The tone and topic in which you write a short story should be, in my eyes, dozens of times more powerful than a piece of 80 000+ words. It might not have a plot line at all, but simply be describing something: an emotion, an event, a person, some nameless thing that the reader never even gets to identify with. Short stories are supposed to make you think, question aspects of life that were previously thought to be established or unsettle concepts that need to be unsettled again. Many short stories are 500 words of dialogue attached to a character in a specific moment in his or her life. I can read novels for that and get their whole story. Give me a short story. Make me think.

I used to hate writing short stories. I loathed it. I never understood how you could get a beginning, middle, and end in so few words. How can you get action? Romance? Villainy? Betrayal? You have only a few hundred, or a few thousand, words to use to portray these things that so often make or break a plot and draw readers in.

But I’ve written my fair share of short stories over the years, little blips of characters or scenes that had no place in a novel but found their way into my head nonetheless. I’ve come to love writing short stories. It’s a bit like having a string of lovers. I can love each one, learn a bit about them, have my way with them, and move along to the next without feeling guilty I abandoned them in pursuit of something new and interesting. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen to them 25 years from now. I don’t feel bad about what happens to them because, frankly, I don’t know them well enough to care that much. They’re one-night stands. Exciting, pleasurable, non-committal.

This meme is my favourite. I couldn't resist.
This meme is my favourite. I couldn’t resist.

In my recent anthology (of which you can buy a print copy by emailing me at libby.maire@gmail.com, or wait for the ebook edition later this season), I have a couple handfuls of short stories. I love them. They’re so fun. They’re dangerous. I can skip a beginning, an introduction to a cast. I don’t have to introduce anyone if I don’t want to. Anonymity is great. I can dive into the middle. The middle most likely isn’t the climax of the person’s life, or even their day, but it’s the middle of a moment that for whatever reason is worth writing about, and hopefully, reading.

My attention span isn’t the greatest. I get bored and distracted and look for something shiny to play with like a crow rooting through a pile of garbage. I’ve only completed one novel (I refuse to count the novel I wrote at age 13 because it’s shameful to read). I’m supposed to rewrite it within the year. It hasn’t happened yet, though I did do the majority of the outline. I started two novels this year. One made it to the 10 000 word mark and I’m still chipping away it — but slowly, slowly.

I just get so distracted. By books, by the internet, by writing short stories, by editing photos and reading blogs and sketching and sewing and and and —

See? I’m even distracted within this post.

But back to short stories.

I decided to start another anthology (to be released around this time next year if all goes well), this time a series of short stories all related to each other. I’ve written three of the pieces so far, and hope to write fifteen or so more. Fifteen more fleeting pleasures to be had. Fifteen more delicious and sinfully delightful one-night stands to experience.

Here I go, to a place where distraction can happen and loves abandoned. A world of short stories. A world of one-night stands.

I mean, it’ll get lonely after awhile. But I have my WIP novels. They are the strong relationships in my life, the ones that keep me together and challenge me, the ones I have to work out problems with. I can have fun with them, too, but…it doesn’t feel as naughty. 😉