Saturday, October 02, 2010

"Confidence" says Kenneth Clark

In the times when I wanted to be a mainstream comic artist, from age 9 until maybe 22 when I completely gave up on the idea, I always had this idea that I had to learn to draw the way the modern world was, even though I hated drawing skyscrapers and cars because I have always felt they were usually an obnoxious mixture of sterile and ugly. I really do hate cars except for an odd few. I felt I needed to learn to love them so I could draw them. I sometimes hear an attitude that setting stories in a favourite environment from history is lazy, nostalgic and backwards, as if we constantly need to make the best fantasy and horror set in modern world if we are to achieve something new and notable. But thankfully I learned to just draw what I enjoy, which is a mixture of my favourite elements of the past and my own ideal future. I think that opinion I just mentioned above is nonsense because it gives this automatic respect for an environment just because it is the currently existing environment. Same with clothes, why should I draw the type of clothes people wear when I might be able to design something better?

I actually feel it is unhealthy to have this constant readiness to adapt and accept whatever designs come our way and put them into our art and life. Because they often do not deserve acceptance. So I don’t accept the criticism people give when they say “that is not the clothes, buildings and transport we have”, because you can create something more interesting yourself. I think I was naïve to imagine I’d eventually see this amazing beauty in modern urban design, as if the people who built it were equal to nature in their greatness, just because they have given us the things we have to live with.

When I go to work, I cant really think about many other things than this subject. I’m horrified by the way the streets look and even more horrified that people accept it. I watched Jonathan Meades’ programmes about architecture in Britain and he came to Scotland talking about the oppressive feeling some of the horrible architecture in poorer areas had on you, as if it was intentionally trying to keep you in your place. Meades said these buildings say “You’re going to live in the same house as your grandparents and you’re going to be grateful for it”. Another thing was after seeing all those Tsukamoto films, learning how much he hates what a place like Tokyo city does to you. Tom Mes described the people within his films as if they are drugged by their environment and they cant hope or even imagine a different way of living. I think a lot of people underestimate how powerful a force of oppression is the ugliness of their streets. Even if you live among impressive skyscrapers they could still be oppressive because they can be so sterile.

I think things can seem intentionally oppressive not because I believe there is a conspiracy,, but lazy, easy design with no regard for real stimulation just ends up being oppressive if there is too much of it around. I don’t think popular TV programmes really are designed to keep you in submission, it is just a result of lazy, easy design with no regard for real stimulation. They rigidly stick to a formula and it results in feeling like your brain is being smashed into submission in a factory on a conveyor belt.
Has anyone noticed how laid-back “chillax” hiphop background tunes started being used in TV showing off customised cars, expensive houses of celebrities and hip tattoo shops,, but now that music is used in an alarming amount of programmes where it makes no sense, like extreme sports shows. It could seem like a sinister plot to keep people chillaxing on their seats and keep wanting things they see, but I think it is just a lack of effort and imagination that they choose those stupid backing tunes.

I think most people just see life as if it will forever be like the present and their sense of possibilities dies eventually. I think the countryside can expand your mind and sense of possibilities with its sheer beauty and all the unpredictable shapes it takes. Life in urban cities mostly drains you, just takes things away from you. It is not as if everyone who lives in the country has an amazing imagination for possible futures, and it is possible for an urban city to be beautiful, but extreme levels of beauty can open up all these optimistic ideas in your mind, you need stimulation to believe in something good, it’s definitely not just me who feels that way.

I like to think of the earth we live on as a depressing alternate reality. This planet should really be called Dark Earth. I am Dark RAG, a miserable variation of the real RAG who is years ahead of me and has all the things I want for myself but have been too lazy to grab.

I was once running around the fields helping my dad with the cows and I was just thinking that this experiencing of the beauty of the fields was so great that it felt essential and that most people were living without the essential things a human should have. Does everyone really need the countryside to recharge and stay enthusiastic and happy? Several times I have had an amazing dream in a really beautiful place and woken up with this enormous sense of loss as if the most important thing in the world has been taken away from me. As if something essential to humans is perhaps gone forever and only an unprecedented genius could get us back to this way of life that presently no-one knows how to get to. One of the dreams was me lying in darkness among these soft blue hills in a perfect state of bliss.
Where does this feeling come from that I and everyone else needs this? It wasn’t just a dream of not having to work for a living, it felt like so much more than that, I might never know, maybe it was just a very nice feeling that meant nothing at all and was incredibly sad to leave.

But basically I’m just saying we shouldn’t ever grow to accept the current standards of anything just because it is that way. So praising entertainment or anything else just because they are better than the rest is validation they do not deserve. Keep reaching for that ideal standard that presently seems impossible. The more you accept current standards, the more your sense of possibilities shuts down. I still believe there will be comics and movies someday that will be so powerful that it will be like being in dreams and nightmares for hours.

I’ve been watching Civilization, a TV show from the late 60s in which the gloriously posh Kenneth Clark gives his opinion of what are the great achievements of western civilization. The show has been criticized for leaving out important parts of Spanish history, but he did that because he felt his beliefs about a certain Spanish period were too controversial. I never have had a comprehensive education of art history and I have always been wary of art history in the fear that I’ll believe some nonsense observations motivated by the prejudices of the historians, but Clark is very likable and I think I can trust him. It may sound incredible but I had never known about Rodin and Turner until this show and they have been great discoveries for me. The show further opened up my sense of possibilities and makes me believe in our power to change things we have become too accepting of.

One of the most interesting things he keeps on saying that I never hear elsewhere is his emphasis in the need of CONFIDENCE to build something truly great. At first it sounded bizarre that he thought confidence was the main thing lacking in modern times, because overconfidence seems like a major problem today. But then I started thinking about how drowning myself in brutal self-criticisms haven’t really drove me to do anything great this year, maybe I need to be less grim when I think of what I need to achieve, that I should balance the harshness with a joyous optimism of what I know I’m capable of.


Gaiihin Gobulblœne said...

I understand your point about escaping and not drawing the modern environment. I also do. However I often represent facts and real things. Mainstream culture don’t, except for its depiction of most people who were fed by it. Cheesy. I also think real events would be a good skeleton to build the most uncalculated narrative.

BTW I just search for the etymology of « Physis » : « to be born », « to grow ». And the meaning evolved in « nature ». I think it can also mean the proto-energy.

Robert, there’s no one ahead of you who would be your white or bright self.

Robert Adam Gilmour said...

But I have not taken time nearly seriously enough. I feel I am years behind where I should be.

Aeron said...

We all feel that way, Robert. I can't imagine any artist out there who doesn't feel there are dozens of things they'd wish they'd accomplished by the time they're thinking back on it. Well, maybe except for Gustave Doré.

ULAND said...

You're not behind, Robert. There is no clear course in any of this.
I think if you just draw/write/cartoon ALL THE TIME without really worrying about the product, you'll a) have way more fun just enjoying the ride, and b) you'll start making things you really like before you know it.
If all this art stuff isn't enriching your experience of life, isn't it sort of not worth it? I mean that to be encouraging.
I love the Clark series ( no way it would be made today, as cultural Marxists run the BBC.), but I have a very hard time applying the kind of High Western standards to my own life/work. That stuff— and it really was the pinnacle— required a kind of society that we don't have today.
I would just dig into your own thing, even the misery of it all can inform your work. At some point you won't want to escape.