This is Not Art, and I am Not Here

Top of the Yurt to you!

Top of the Yurt to you!

What was Yoko Ono playing at, writing “This is Not Here” above a door, and calling it art? And how do I go about making some dosh myself, putting a sign that says something like, “This is Not a Penguin” with a pointy arrow, and placing it over a towel rack, or perhaps an old wireless?

What if I were to paint an entire canvas yellow – edge to edge, the whole shebang – and title it “Purple”? Would that be art?

What is art? And who gets to decide? Critics, other artists, the Great Washed and Unwashed alike?

A few days ago, I received some cards through the posts. The original prints are by Jo Cox, the artist mother of Tom Cox, author and creator of the “My Sad Cat” and “My Smug Cat” books, Twitter accounts, and photos.

I’m thinking of framing one of them, probably “Sad News on the Radio”, as my monthly radio show has been such a positive thing in my life for over five years now. And the August, September, and October shows are very much on my mind.

Sad News on the Radio" - card from a print by Jo Cox

Sad News on the Radio” – card from a print by Jo Cox

I don’t tend to think of our house as having a lot of art, possibly because we have family down in Devon who have loads of original paintings, by a variety of artists. The last and so far only time I stayed, I asked if they were collectors? No, came the reply, we just know a lot of artists.

One of my relatives, Richard, is an extremely talented print maker, and has created some fabulous cards, prints, and notebooks featuring some of his local trees. Once, when he stopped over with us, Richard said we should charge admission, there was so much to look at.

Lots to look at? I don't know what you mean ...

Lots to look at? I don’t know what you mean.

I think we’re both frustrated artists, he and I, as well as both being writers. This explains why so much of the wall space is covered with pictures, photos, and objet d’art.

It gives the house – which is Victorian – a Victorian look, at least downstairs, though we’ve not got what the British call “stuffed animals” (1), ie, taxidermy.

I’m with Ace – one of my favourite Classic Who companions – when, in one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes, “Ghostlight”, she disdainfully refers to taxidermy as “dead things”. And yet, I’m as fascinated as any naturalist whenever I come across the flotsam and jetsam of the natural world: a blue egg shell, possibly from a starling; the skeleton of what I fear was probably one of my favourite birds, a blackbird.

Eggshell found in garden, April 2015.

Eggshell found in garden, April 2015.

Many years ago, a friend and I stayed in a teepee on a laird’s estate, near Balmoral. We rented it from a Danish woman who had married a chap from Leeds, and later moved up to Scotland. She made the teepee, as well as a variety of North-American style objects, some of which – such as dreamcatchers, and pipes – she constructed from roadkill she found on the little lanes around the area, which had litle industry save the local distillery.

She showed us round her workshop, and commented how unphased we were by her collection of skulls, teeth, and other bones, as well as feathers, and fur. Many visitors, it seemed, were distressed by these things. But, as it happened, my friend and I were – and are – both vegetarian.

The explained a lot, she said.

Back to Yoko, and the door that “is Not Here”. How much more useful to be able to create a sign which says “I am Not Here”, attach it to a pole, and hold it above my head, on those days when it all gets too much? When I could – if I only drove, and could afford the petrol – just jump in the car, and head up to Scotland, and that Danish lady’s Balmoral teepee?

To go where the only thing breaking my peace isn’t other people, or car alarms, or someone else’s choice of music, but a peacock who’s desperately trying to get the attention of a couple of peahens?

Where art is a sunset, and there’s all the time in the world to sit, and to write. To sleep near a fire, under the stars, then wake up, and to write, then to write some more.

This is Not Normally Here: Yurt by the "Pixies", Donny Pride, 2015

This is Not Normally Here: Yurt by the “Pixies”, Donny Pride, 2015





About Sheila N

Enough about me. Art by Tom Brown.
This entry was posted in Art, mental health, Nature, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to This is Not Art, and I am Not Here

  1. blahpolar says:

    Lovely post. I think art is anything you want it to be and I think that having genres of it helps quite a bit. Then we can dismiss an entire school of art at whim (and I often do). Personally, I think Warhol had the last word on modern and even postmodern art ie you can do what you like and with enough spin, sell it too. And you can blatantly call your studio a factory, get assistants to do the grunt work for you and then casually stroll over and piss on it. So after that, any other jokes at the expense of art critics are bound to flop – there aren’t really any punchlines left. My own definition of art collides enormously with both archaeology and waste disposal. I like things I can imagine being excavated one day and impressing someone (be it one solitary soul or the whole world). My theory is as full of holes as my mind though, but it gives me guidelines to pontificate (or in the case of Damien Hirst, rant) about it all, and since I love discussions like this, it suits me just fine. Yoko Ono, I think, is incredibly intelligent and very pretentious and in my opinion, makes nondescript art and music that would freak howler monkeys right out. But that’s fine, I expect she’s enjoying life and giving a strange segment of the population some joy and profit. ‘This is not here’ is also a completely redundant expression of something Magritte did way better and at the right point in art history. I’d bet my bottom dollar she won’t last anywhere close to the amount of time Magritte has. I think that in order for there to be artistic progression, rules must be broken and I’m not sure that there are any rules left. Well, maybe one – the uptight art scene making it tricky for us mere mortals to create whatever the hell we like and then call it art and more importantly, call ourselves artists. By the way, thank you for being involved in my performance art piece, ‘commentary in a comment on a blog post about art’. That’ll be £1 000 000.99 thanks.

    • Sheila North says:

      Ah, love the phrase “nondescript art and music that would freak howler monkeys right out”: oh, for some howler monkeys to experiment on, and the ethics – or lack thereof – to think that’s okay to do.

      And it was a pleasure to be part of your performance free. But, I’m afraid round here at least, art is free. But the platform isn’t. Fortunately, I’m cheap, and will settle for a tenner, some book tokens, and a sag paneer and garlic nan.

  2. blahpolar says:

    (this is not a comment)

    (that was not a statement)

  3. Sheila North says:

    (of course not)

    (see above)

  4. Nimue Brown says:

    You might like Grayson Perry’s book Playing to the Gallery. Grayson suggests that it’s art if someone says it is – anything can be art. Of course, as Frank Zappa was pointing out quite some time ago (before being dead) whether it’s *good* art is a whole other question. Anything can be art. But unless you’re famous already, or bloody good at PR, the odds of someone offering you a silly amount of money for it, are sadly, rather slim.

    • Sheila North says:

      Hmm, I think if anyone could point something out *after* they’re dead, it would be Zappa. Meanwhile, I’ve given up any hopes of being able to slap together a silly sign, and persuade people to give me both kudos, and brass.

      That Grayson Perry book sounds interesting.

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