to explain my signification

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This was posted on oook.ca December 2011

To provide context i included the entire article with my words in bold.
WRITINGS FROM THE WALL – rhean murray –the power of the letter by Sarah Fahey

We are words. It is what separates us from all other livings things on the planet. Without words we would not be what we are.  Much of what we are exists through the meaning and exchange of words. It is the heartbeat of communication and has the power to control and condemn or unleash and inspire.
To take that idea a step further, if the meaning and use of words have power then so does the structure of a written language itself. The use of last names and capital letters has been controlling people for ages. Entire groups of people have had their history erased and their future position cemented by changing their last name; this symbolically repositions them within a hierarchical system. These days we often don’t know our friends last names and more and more businesses are using all lower case in their title. It is a swiftly growing trend that has subtle effects; it is restructuring the system through the use of words and letters.
Golo artist rhean murray takes a conscious stand on this issue, “in the living spirit of semiotics i have embraced the philosophical idea of a nonhierarchy of letters. i am the lowercase i. it lends itself to a certain mindfulness in our age of spell check and automation.” I wanted to present rhean’s writing untouched because in addition to her use of all lower case I find her writing compelling, concise and on point.
 the medium is the message    
    life not an easy ride, the story is often confusing and complicated and in the quest for answers, creativity is the only steadfast companion. my own search for therapeutic enlightenment led to performance art and later shamanism. as a shamanic performer, i am compelled by higher powers to experience and enact certain ritualistic behaviour. as a result i don’t often produce artifacts that can become conventional saleable objects, so i do indulge in a more traditional markmaking practice as well. in keeping with the philosophical nature of my life, i work exclusively in self portraiture, often large scale nudes. the image creation is a direct extension of the performance work and are visual prayers. the naked human body is a powerful symbol, an attack and a defence perfectly balanced. a strong unashamed nude can be seen as threatening; yet it is also quintessential vulnerability, the physical representation of mental openness. self portraiture is a tough subject. every time you create a piece you reveal an intimate truth about yourself in a much more immediate way than through the filter of other subjects. my work has been described as difficult, controversial, elitist, inspiring and sensual. i don’t argue with any of these assessments but i hope it can be seen as engaging and interactive as well. i spent five years at the Alberta College of Art and Design and one at Concordia University trying to separate theatre from performance. theatre is a mirror held up to the audience, performance, a window. through the art of performance the audience teaches the artist as much as they learn from the experience. the neurological repatterning that takes place when a living brain confronts the juxtaposition of a living ritual is the essential power of performance art, and art in general.

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life drawing

life drawing is an important fundamental skill for all artists. not just for its meditative and practical applications but for grounding an artistic practice and linking individuals to a community. drawing for professionals is like going to a weekly sports practice, keeping the skills sharp. for beginners it’s honing those skills. it is also the vibe and conversation of the night, the music playing, the “gestalt” of the event and the intrapersonal inspiration of groups of artists getting together to create. for myself art arises in the same conditions that create life in a swamp. a chaotic yet organised mess of ideas and input that create new structure and meaning. a regular art group, especially one of life drawing, where the action can be linked to a narrative, simulates on a small scale that burgeoning atmosphere of evolutionary epiphany. even if your primary practice is not focused on drawing, the skills and experiences cross boundaries. in fact as a performance artist i find that drawing becomes more like play, facilitating lateral thinking and creative problem solving.

let’s talk about sex…

if there is one topic out there to make people defensive and reactionary, it is the discussion of sexuality.  the word encompasses many layers, yet is so overused in media we have a hard time thinking about it sanely.  while artistic concerns are much broader and richer than simply brash excitation of the sensual senses, i find the statement that an image of a nude person is completely non-sexual to be disingenuous and ignorant.  to completely ignore the factual biological analyses of depictions of mature animals is diminishing to the potential readings of the work.  lessening the overt sexuality to an image does not make the image free of the themes, it merely places that interpretation on a less prominent level.  by choosing the mature human form as the site of interpretation how can the topic of sexuality not enter into it?  in our modern era the discussion branches into current affairs, and ethics, as well as reaching far back into art history.

originally textile coverings served a protective purpose.  this protection crossed a symbolic boundary to protecting our morality, leading to puritanical times when the sight of disrobed body meant lewd and rude behaviour.  now we have swung so far the other way, insisting that it’s only about form, light, texture and technique, that it has absolutely nothing at all to do with sexuality, that it begs the question, why choose the nude human form at all.  the initial interpretation must take into account whether the sexuality of the subject has been downplayed or overblown.  many clothed or partially clothed images are highly sexualised, the removal of all coverings completely is far more intimate and vulnerable than simple enticement.

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the history of painting and drawing the human form is linked to anatomical studies as works of plants and animals resonate with the history of biological studies.  accurately capturing the exterior hangs upon a thorough understanding of interior structures.  part of these studies is an acknowledgement of the factual function and purpose of the forms drawn.  a mature subject has an innate sexual interpretation, as that is a biological function of a mature organism.  pornography is the depiction of the body as attractive, alluring, and voyeuristically as a sexual partner.  all other types of body imagery then lead to other realms of information.  what is the message of a sexual being doing non sexual things?

by downplaying the overt style of sexuality and dealing more with form and texture we are saying that there is more to the body than simply sex.  that we have an aesthetic arrangement that is pleasing beyond simply attracting for a mate.  a nude posed in a non sexual way allows free enjoyment of these forms and nudes engaged in an activity beyond posing, normalises an unclothed form, one which we all share in some fashion between each member of our species.  our current mainstream media culture overplays the availability of sex in our society and pins too much of our worth on being desirable.  images that de-sexualise the body allow more space in our minds for alternative types.

more accurately art involving the nude figure is not about unhealthy sexuality, rather it is healthy balanced sexuality showing through.  a sexuality that isn’t about being too concerned with attractiveness, that is natural, wholesome, and balanced.  healthy sexuality isn’t all about sex, it is as much about being comfortable not having and not thinking about sex.  artistic statements about sexuality are as much about innocence as they are about the lack thereof, all under the control of the intent of the artist.  by making art that removes itself from the arousal aspect of initial interpretations the art is still making a statement about its relationship to our sexuality as a species.

art and money

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art is as important as science and math, but get anyone to admit that is like pulling teeth.  art is the basic language that the universe uses to communicate with every single person, without the benefit of a specialised education, although that does help.  instead we are viewed as frivolous individuals engaging in a luxury activity that should by all rights be relegated to a hobby.  once, i had this interaction with a businessman:
“you artists, you always want something from the business sector.”
“yes,” i replied, confused, “we want your money.”
“well, what do you do, that you deserve our money?”
“we. make. the art. you buy it.”
art is not viewed as anything of value, unless it’s two centuries old and made by a man.  art and design are the cornerstone of all societies.  without it we would live in a grey world devoid of interest or relief of the urban landscape.  every little thing we use has been designed, from toothbrushes to electronic devices to artificial and natural spaces, the language of art facilitates our interaction with our physical world.  artists are always on the cutting edge of society and the forerunners to new evolutionary states.  Marshall McLuhan and other media researchers agree that the artists are the people who ‘know which way the wind is blowing.’

there seems to be this idea of culture creation as being fun.  whenever i express the idea that i would like to devote my time to my divine vocation, people usually respond with.
“wouldn’t that be fun?”
as though; the deep soul searching, public soul baring, and trying to balance this minutiae with the universal, is fun.  don’t get me wrong, i have a lot of fun with art and derive immense satisfaction from the creative act, but the desire to make art does not stem from the desire for ‘fun,’ that dancing in a club or going to an amusement park gives.  the fact that it is less taxing than hard labour and bookkeeping, does not make it less work, there are aspects of the enjoyable and not, in all day to day situations.  there is this disbelief that if we didn’t need to go to work that anything would get done.  if i didn’t have a wage slave job, i would care for and beautify my exterior space, and my interior space.  i would create objects and experiences to enrich and elucidate the lives of the beings around me.  during the four years i spent in the south okanagan, i learned how to care for the land and in return the land cared for me.  where once i killed simple house plants like spider plants, i now have a collection of fifty, or so, plants of over twenty different varieties.

as a horticulturalist and snowboard instructor, i believed that i had it made in the okanagan.  how perfect, pay bills by caring for the land in the summer, and foster a love of sport and camaraderie in youth and adults in the winter.  i was one of the lucky employees at the local mountain resort, i was hired in the winter of 2009 at $12/hr, most other employees had to settle for $10.  on average, throughout three winters i made less than thirty dollars a day.  other staff offset the cost of living by staying in staff accommodations, condemned buildings, that you still needed to pay rent for.  mountain staff would often have second jobs because there just was no other way to get by.  people during the summer were also unwilling to pay much more, for four years i charged $15/hr so that i could work at a property for more than three hours at a time, to actually accomplish large tasks and care for the property symbiotically, rather than chemically and cosmetically.  when my number one client suffered a stroke, my ability to make an income in the okanagan ceased.  after handing out thirty resumes, the only place to call me back was this market on the north end of town.  it is the type of business that as a consumer i want to be able to support; artisanal, in house baking, fine edibles and ingredients, delicious fair trade coffees and teas, and hangs original artwork from local artists.  yet in order to provide this ostensibly enriching third space to the community, staff are routinely expected to work eight hour shifts with only one fifteen minute break, which you are ‘on call’ for, paying for your food at fifty percent off.  when pointed out by more than one person that this is not up to labour standards, the general attitude is how else is the business supposed to stay afloat and you can find another job.  when the summer staff went back to school the regular employees belittled their educational efforts, saying,
“well, they don’t live in the real world. what do they think they are going to do with these degrees?”  and sadly it is turning out to be very much true.  so back to alberta i came, bringing my partner with me, because at least in calgary, wages aren’t insulting. $10/hr for someone with a degree is insulting.  my partner also has a degree.  he went to a queen’s charter university in england and received a degree in physics.  at the end of his term of study the only people approaching him for career placement were the nuclear power establishment and the nuclear weapons establishment so he came back to canada and has been working as a parts person ever since, even though he would also like a masters degree.

for ten months i worked at being a professional artist.  i applied for shows, that i could afford to apply to.  i modelled for the life drawing community and the photographic arts community.  i volunteered whenever i could and ordered business cards to network better.  i created an online presence.  for people not engaged in this activity, perhaps this doesn’t sound like much, but i assure you, three months of at least eight hours a day is what it takes to competently navigate social media platforms, build your profiles and get serious attention for your blogging efforts.  yet the financial strain to my relationship was such that i was required to find waged work once more.  now the expectation is either that i; get up at an unreasonable hour for socialisation after nine in the evening, work a full day at jobs that are intermittently very hard labour, then come home and reach deep down to find the energy for my culture creation, switching from one mode of thinking into another which is quite taxing, and still support others projects; or give up something i feel very strongly about in order to not burn out, and become exhausted, a grave affliction of the creative forced to live lives they would rather not.  everywhere i turn, i am hindered by money, the monetary system, and locked in ideas about gain.  once, while my work hung in a restaurant, the chef with tears in her eyes, expounded on a love of one of my pieces, she gave me a downpayment, but then changed jobs unexpectedly and i never heard from her again.  i would rather that we lived in the kind of society where i could have just given her the piece she was so obviously moved by, but then i wouldn’t be an equal contributing partner to my relationship, and so it sits in my house, enjoyed by no one but us.

the only reason we want money in the first place is so that we can pay our rent and studio fees, buy our food and supplies and continue making more art and culture for the world.  if i was assured of a place to live and make my art, with access to a space at my residence that i can grow things, i would never worry about selling art again. i would create and beautify my community without fear of eviction and hunger.  i was enrolled in post secondary education for a total of six years; four as a ward of the province of british columbia, one by student loan, and one paid for by myself and my partner at the time, while i was attending school, a new and horrific type of stress, that i do not recommend.  i have invested both time and financial efforts to my education, which i took very seriously.  indeed, it is a little known fact that accredited art colleges offering university degrees, mark harder than the university counterparts in the same city, with no bell curve.  to receive an ‘a’ in academics while i attended, required 92%, rather than the 86% university students enjoyed.  i do want to get my masters degree, and also a doctorate in fine arts (which by necessity needs to be combined with another discipline) because i believe that the dialogue of fine arts needs to be taken to those levels and into problemsolving thinktanks for the betterment of our world as a whole.  the money aspect is the only thing holding me back.  money only makes the world go around for a select group of people and as the group gets more and more select the ideas become thinner and less vibrant.

the right to be nude versus fear

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we are born into this world naked.  free and unrestricted, without shame or guilt or pride or any of the constraints that our minds create as we go through life.  our bodies are our gifts.  we are spiritual beings having a human experience and so the body gifted to you upon your birth is the tool with which you navigate the world.  it is the main filter with which we take information into the less physical parts of our body, our minds, our souls.  when we cover it in cloth we separate ourselves from the wind and water and the sun, we add a dulling layer to our filter, we numb our flesh to the truth of the world.

as we live in canada, there are many months of the year that going without clothes can be dangerous to your health.  during the warmer times why is it surprising to see other humans wanting to engage with their environment without clothes.  there is nothing inherently lewd about walking or playing sports or just sitting around.  the idea that children will somehow be damaged by seeing the naked adult form is ridiculous, are the children of primitive tribes hurt by everyone running around with as little on as possible?  no one is hurt by the older people in gym and pool change rooms that just wander around with nothing. 

not only is our culture in danger of becoming pathologically afraid of the naked form, but the only bodies we do see are pathologically similar; young, thin, conventionally configured, symmetrical.  should we vanish from the view of the world if we are not perfect in the eyes of the selective clout of the mainstream gaze?  there is a collective horror in viewing the weight of standardised beauty.  there are so many differences supported by the human genome, why should they not also be seen and celebrated.  everyone is going to age and their bodies will change, why should they feel shame and revulsion over what is perfectly natural.

it is our right not to be swaddled and muzzled.  the right to be unclothed in appropriate public places such as beaches and festivals needs to be defended.  it is generally accepted that the addition of fig leaves by prudish church officials diminished the artistic intent of classical artwork.  there is a wealth of history of art created based on the human form, it is a site upon which to find and learn grace and beauty and spirit.  growing up, my parents had recreations of david and aphrodite of milos from them i could see the idealised human form and how that was art, while the regular bodies of people i could see were similar but different.  my home is filled with art made of the human inspiration and when my peers’ children ask about them we have the appropriate discussion about art and why it is important to us.

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why art should be taught

a society that cuts off education in science will lose innovation and technological advancement.  a society that cuts off education in the arts will lose creative problem solving and personal advancement.  no one ever suggests that we can cut out math and science education, just add it in where relevant to the discussion, and yet this is most often the way with the arts. they arts marginalised as frivolous, yet a strong case could equally be made for teaching everything as art and addressing other subjects as they interact with that core.  the arts are; math, science, literature, physical education, social studies, history, current events and everything in between.  it is time to stress the importance of educating or society about art.

early on in artistic interest is a phase where we rely on copying what we see and stimulates us visually.  this is how we come to understand that we are engaged by drawing or painting or any other creative process.  then there comes a moment when we feel our own style, voice, theme and in that we become afraid of contamination, or making work that is derivative, that would no longer set you apart from the mass of artistic creations out there.  when we have time to instruct youth in art, the importance of connection, of resonance and building upon the foundation of art history can be discussed and understood.  rather than shy away from seeing what other artists in your field are doing, welcome the wealth of research that has already been done and give yourself a platform from which to explore how to do things differently.

a creative mind is a malleable mind, plastic and elastic.  in conceptualising, designing and realising creative projects, one learns to be adaptive and dedicated.  one learns how to compromise in a manner that is satisfying rather than frustrating, sometimes a project can not be executed without substitutions and alternate elements than were originally conceived.  by studying the arts you have a toolbox of other solutions from the dawn of art in prehistory to people working today using the latest and greatest tools.

making art is all about risk.  by pursuing the unconventional and making your dreams into reality it can teach you the skills of resilience and self confidence.  it can lead to becoming a better communicator, the ideas and intent of the artwork aside, there are many statements and proposals that artists must write.  a clear and concise and direct approach is a successful method.

there are many practical benefits to making art.  long term project participation allows artists to judge amounts of materials, create successful compositions and network for future ideas.  it is an important aspect of our society that every person should be participating in somehow.  it is cathartic, healing, and uplifting.  the greater our creative potential, the greater a future that can be imagined and then engineered.

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