Back on the 3rd of April this year I posted a poem of mine looking back to an obsession I had in childhood with a make-believe world of subterranean tunnels, caves, vertical shafts and the like. I had dreams about this world. Indeed, although I can no longer be sure, I think it may have all begun as the result of a dream. The world became an essential part of my my play world, though the games that resulted were for just one player. Me. I had fantasies about this world and about it dozens of secret entrances, all cunningly concealed, each by a different device, mostly natural, such as an old tree stump covered in ivy. I drew intricate plans and maps of my world, made several large paintings and at least one model. At that time I was suffering a lot of bad health and had to spend long periods in bed. I developed ways of folding and rolling the bed sheets to model my underground tunnels and built caverns between sheet and blanket. I suppose that had my obsession lasted into adulthood the appropriate response to it would have been for me to build installations to interpret to others what was going on in my head.
Earlier this year the Haywood Gallery in London held an exhibition of installations purporting to do just that. The exhibition was called: Walking in My Mind. Ten internationally recognised artists prodused works by means of which they hoped to convey to the gallery's visitors just what it was that was taking place inside their heads.
That seemed hopelessly optimistic to me, but now there is a gallery dedicated to going well beyond that brief, but paradoxically, with a somewhat greater chance of success - or so it seems to me. The Museum of Everything, newly opened in a disused dairy close to Regents Park in London, displays works made by artists for themselves and for themselves alone. These are works that for the most part were made for the artists' eyes only, works that spring from and feed the artist's fantasies and have no other purpose. Many of them are whimisical it seems, some verging towards the dark. But I stress: the one thing they have in common is their intended privacy. There is, or was when they created their works, absolutely no intention to communicate - and is not that intention an essential element in the making of a work of art? The exhibition contains, for example, works from a vast collection that was discovered by the late artist's landlord. No one other than Darger knew of their existence prior to his death. Henry Darger has since become rather well known - given that that was not part of his game plan - for his Vivien Girls, delightful creatures, nude for the most part, who are pursued through his paintings by absolute evil on account of their intrinsic goodness.
It was in reading about this exhibition that I was reminded of my childhood indulgences. Among the 95 artists whose works are currently on display are Calvin and Ruby Black, a couple who lived in the Mojave Desert where they created their own miniature world, a wind-powered city with the endearing name of Possum Trot. (Sounds like the name of a blog, does it not?) They populated it with lovingly made wooden dolls dressed in beautifully hand-crafted clothes. The parallels with my subterranean world seemed amazingly close, though in my case the population changed a few times: originally it was inhabited by the military, a special military with a brief to save the world, later it was given over to International Rescue (yes, really, I was the first, though there were no rockets). Then a mutant strain of humanity who had been subject to a death ray that had not quite worked. None of these proved as satisfying as the army, however, so finally they recaptured it.
So what is all this nonsense in aid of, then? I have already given a clue in a question I raised earlier: Is not the intention to communicate an essential element in the making of a work of art? I have been trying to think of precedents, but I have not exactly come up with an armful. What other examples can you think of for art-making in which no thrid party is involved, just the artist and his work? Where the art work has no role in communicating something? I thought of Cave art, but we cannot be sure what that was all about. Magic has been suggested, to give the hunter greater skill and more success. But the bones in the caves were not from the same animals as depicted on the walls - in many cases. Spirits are another suggestion. The works were not meant to be viewed, not even by the artist, which is why they were painted in such inaccessible places. The important fact - the only fact that mattered - was that they should exist. Somewhere. In and for themselves. Rites of passage is another suggestion. In which case they would be expected to convey something, to communicate. But we don't know. Ikons, I thought of, but then decided that of course they communicate, not something new from the artist, something familiar via the artist, but they communicate all the same. Child art, I thought of, and then found myself argueing against myself. I began by thinking about my tunnel-world. I never did think of it as art. Not even the paintings I made of it. And then it struck me that I didn't think of any of my other paintings as art, either. Not until... and then I realised that I have no idea at what stage I first began to think of my paintings as art. We all know that the child is a fine artist. And then he stops. Why? Could it be because he begins to think of his art as art? Begins to think in terms of others, trying to say something to others, and loses the freshness of having to satisfy only himself?
So: Can you think of any other examples of private art? Non-communicative art? And is it art? Can it be? Or does art have to be at least endeavouring to communicate? If so, what objectively distinguishes the two conditions?
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