The Artistic Imperative
* Warning – this is a self-indulgent ramble *
When I was young I was told I was very clever. ‘You are so intelligent,’ they used to say. I was also a very nice kid – generous, gentle, helpful and uncomplaining. I was full of life – ‘Fond of play’ as my form teacher wrote on my final report from the primary school. I was top of the class, number one of thirty-four, and that was in the A stream in the final year at that school – so at that time I was the top pupil of the whole school.
To be fair my teacher recognised this and wanted me to apply for a scholarship to go to Llandovery College – a private school around thirty miles from my home – it would have meant boarding I believe.
But, my parents didn’t have the wherewithal, either in monetary terms or in imagination to pursue the idea and the teacher realising it was an impossibility, let it go. As it happens, I’m glad about this, I don’t think I’d like the person I would have become if I’d spent those important years of my childhood in such a place.
Now, I’m approaching my 65th birthday – my mother is disappointed in me. I can see it in her eyes – and anyway, she says it often enough. ‘You used to be so clever,’ she’ll say. ‘You could have done so much.’
I agree. I was clever and I could have done so much, in fact, in my terms, despite being broke and living in a small rented house with hardly any income, I have done so much – loads in fact; so much that is except make money – why?
Well, I’m an artist, a proper one, a genuine artist – but I didn’t know that until I was in my fifties.
Everyone has always told me – ‘you should do this’, ‘you should do that’, ‘you’d be good at it’, ‘why do all the other idiots make money when you don’t’. Well, get this, I don’t need anyone else to tell me what I could do, I already know what I could do – and it’s not all about cleverness or ability, unless you mean the ability to deny who I am and sell out to the highest bidder. I don’t have that ability. You could call it a flaw. You could say it’s a kink in my character.
The thing is, nobody else except myself, thinks that anything I do is worth their attention. As far as the rest of the world is concerned I have nothing to offer. Look, this isn’t just me moaning, complaining about my lot – whinging. This is just plain simple fact. Take my writing for example. I wrote a lot when I was a teenager, with no ambition for publication; it was just something I did. I felt as if I was an observer, someone who sat in cafes and watched the world go by. I wrote a poem about it at the time:
Is this my life a Pawn or King
Both of them are used
Observation is my game
Suggesting things to you
Am I moulded to a pattern
Like rook or knight or bishop’s pawn
Or am I just the passive onlooker.
Was it for watching I was spawned
Do I see and write it all down
Am I acting in this play
Do I criticize the script-theme
Do I feel a different way?
Then as I left my teens I more or less forgot about writing for almost twenty years, focusing instead on living the life of a family man, with a wife, children, a mortgage and all that. It was a fantastic time, with all those wonderful people so close to me. I had a good job at a middle-management level in a car components factory, but became extremely disgruntled so left to start my own business when I was thirty-two. Anyway – that’s a digression.
I came back to writing in the late eighties; then in the nineties I began trying to get published, sending short stories and novels to various publishers and literary agents and entering one or two competitions. I did write computer game reviews for magazines and had a regular column in the evening paper commenting on local events but I didn’t count that as proper writing.
Anyway, after almost a decade of rejection I signed up for an MA in creative writing in the hope that it would teach me how to write in the correct way to get published. I found the course very easy and flew through it in a year while continuing to earn money as a full-time self-employed computer consultant. My work on the MA attracted nothing but praise from the lecturers and tutors – it wasn’t a graded MA, but I was told if it was I would have had a distinction. But, six years later in 2005 with nothing apart from a few newspaper and magazine articles published I decided to self-publish my own work.
In the more than a decade since then I have self-published four novels, two books of short stories, a book of my poetry and a sort of random collection thing. Alongside all that, in the nineties I started studying and writing scripts for TV, film and theatre, sending my work to many production companies with no success. There’s a lot more I could say about this but it leads to the same sad story of rejection. In 2001 I spent a year studying media production and flew through that course as well, writing and directing a short film as my final assignment.
Also around the year 2000 I discovered painting and over the next seven or eight years painted a couple of hundred, mostly large, canvases. I held a couple of self-organised exhibitions and sold a few paintings, not for much I must add.
Overall I’ve written songs – a whole rock-opera, poems, stories, blogs, articles, novels, plays and TV and film scripts, and I’ve written everything in a variety of styles and formats, abstract and straight narrative, long and short, drama, comedy, non-fiction, political. I’ve also recorded audio and video of some of my work, though I keep most of that to myself. My latest project is a soap-opera called Tafftown – more about that later.
But still, in my 65th year I have not managed to get anyone with the wherewithal interested in my work.
Sorry to bore you with what is in any case an incomplete list so I’d better get to the point, which is, to talk about what I have christened ‘The Artistic Imperative’, a phrase that may have been used before for all I know, but for me it means that I am driven to express myself, there is a compulsion, a calling, a feeling of certainty that I am an artist – that’s what I am. I am not a manager in a car factory, I am not a shopkeeper, soap-maker, computer programmer, web designer, publisher, teacher, trainer, maintenance engineer nor a painter and decorator, to name a just a few of the jobs I’ve had.
I am an artist, a true and proper artist. Going to art school has nothing to do with it, as much as my MA in Creative Writing has nothing to do with being a writer – those things are easy, anyone can go to art school or university and get degrees, even a PhD, in anything, but it doesn’t make them an artist. They may be an artist or a writer or whatever but it’s got nothing to do with qualifications gained by the grace of the gatekeepers who inhabit such places, as helpful and lovely as most of them are.
I know a lot of people who are artists of one sort or another – painters, sculptors, writers, poets, actors, singers, musicians and so on. I don’t know how they feel I can only speak for myself – and I’m sure I am an artist.
I am an artist.
And that is what I mean by ‘The Artistic Imperative’.