not quite the desert of the real

Two months ago, Circus Book asked a slew of artists what they were up to. Today marks the beginning of the resultant essay series, A Living Artist.

Notice the word ‘today’ in the previous sentence. It’s relevant for two reasons. First, art cuts across time. And this is exactly the sort of detail we want to better understand. What’s it like to be alive and also be making art? How does art change our relationship with being alive? Does the moniker or appellation or handle or label or title or duty or designation or consequence or vocation or sobriquet of ‘artist’ interact with us in surprising ways? What’s distinct about “our time?”

Second, the word ‘today’ points to the one of the capabilities of the internet. For better or worse, we can alter the definition of what it means to ‘go public’. Were Circus Book to publish this essay in print, for instance, this kind of immediacy would have to find alternative modes of representation.

Circus Book solicited these essays from what has proven to be a dynamic cast with a wide range of focuses, priorities, and intentions. Several of these essays are thundering with relevance and urgency – some are more subtle. Circus Book would encourage you the reader to also be reading between these essays – to form connections or to identify incompatible approaches. The forthcoming essays showcase, sometimes in their very prehistorical blueprint, the eclectic or diverse or schizoid or idiosyncratic potential of art in 2013.

And in lieu of of rambling any further, Circus Book would like to show you a conversation between editors Tom Bair and Dana Frances Haitkin. Dana did not tell Tom she was recording these minutes together.

Tom Bair and Dana Haitkin Discuss Preface

DANA: Ready

TOM: We will probably have to talk about New York City; almost everyone doing this is affiliated with New York City in some way.

We have to talk about using the term artist instead of writer, because most of the people doing this are writers.

I want to just sketch out a genesis – like talk about how the project started, which was that, well, two main things. One: it became clear to me that when people talk about being artists, no one really knows what they’re talking about, there’s only a vague idea of what it means to be an artist. Then One B or One A is that a lot of people have a lot of ideas before they start doing art but then once you start doing art you find out that you don’t make a lot of money so you have to start doing something else, and then your life and your art start giving each other feedback, but that’s more my idea, but…

I wonder if we can hint about money without making it too explicit. It was somewhat of a theme. A big deal in Zach’s piece, but less so in other things.

DANA: So when we called for submissions, what did you want?

TOM: If someone were to have written what I was talking about they would have talked about the relationship between producing art and making money elsewhere and how one affects the other.

For instance, this probably won’t go in, but I picked proofreading and copyediting as a job because this kept me thinking about writing, and I knew this would keep me stimulated at least some of the time. But um…

DANA: What did you see us get in actuality? How did it not match your expectations?

TOM: Well what we’ve gotten are a lot of “Art is…” pieces, Art is blank. And ars poeticas. What I was thinking about was the relationship between living and creating. I guess the relationship between living and creating and how they determine each other.

DANA: Does that have to be something that’s explicit? Don’t you think that will come through [someone’s work] if it’s not addressed directly?

TOM: I do, but I think that that’s a problem. It seems to me that aside from the bag of tricks we as writers have, representing the life we have is a crucial part of … this comes back to me as an artist, I am thinking of a life centric art, what would it look like?

Art requires leisure. It’s not in itself productive, unless you make it to make money. Which is why so much of pop culture leaves a bad taste in our mouth. I think.

I think that the crux we are at in history is it’s not clear anymore whether or not value and the accumulation of capital are not synonymous. It’s not clear that someone’s worth is not completely determined by how much money they make. And I think that is represented by the transition that Tim Burton did, right. Like Tim Burton was doing cool interesting stuff early in his career and his last 3 movies have been shells of his early work. It seems to me that he has commodified his personality to an extent that he is imitating himself.

DANA: Just to play devil’s advocate, is this the same old ‘you sold out’ argument?

TOM: The things I am talking about get very romantic very quickly. It starts to sound like we should retreat into a cave and create, like, in the perfection of our solitude, and, um…

I think the question becomes how to balance the extremes of very intense pragmatism, and very intense romanticism, because if it’s completely pragmatic and you’re just making art to make money, then you’re not making anything different than a roll of paper towels or a plastic flower or old granddaddy whiskey or a salt shaker, so but if you go the other route and start talking about

DANA: Deprivation for the sake of …

TOM: Or the holiness of self expression or something that is confounded in the 21st century, there is no basis for self expression in that way, which is the reason why the living artist exists. Because a succinct thesis of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century seems to be impossible.

Because a succinct thesis of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century seems to be impossible.