They say that every painting is a self-portrait, that an artist can’t help but depict themselves in their work, but I feel that’s got more to do with our impulse to personify everything - like we discussed in our spicy talk about deontology
, we have a pretty universal human need to put a human shape on whatever we encounter. We learn about wars based on the famous names who fought, name wildlife and locations based on the first white man to find them, just can’t get interested in any topic if it doesn’t have a smiling face attached to it that we can get all parasocial with. We like to read art in order to understand the artist, which is both foolish and potentially damaging to that artist in a way that might be hard to understand if you’re not one - look at the way success hit Davey Wreden
, creator of The Stanley Parable.
I’ve spent the last fifteen years sorely tempted to write an “oh, GIRL”
kind of rant plotting out Sinead O'Connor’s evidently disastrous romantic history based solely on her lyrics over the years, but I don’t do it because that would be invasive and cruel, me deciding that liking someone’s art gives me license to judge their life.
Sidestepping the “death of the author” discussion because it’s a shallow moral debate that was already boring centuries before people started trotting it out on Twitter it to feel better about their Harry Potter merch, I don’t think every painting is a self-portrait. I think, like the famous Visscher panorama of London
, every painting is an impossible landscape, a view of the world from a perspective that can exist only this once, that no one else will ever be able to attain. Everything an artist makes is a depiction of the world they see from where they’re standing, and we can read the artist by this - we can try to draw conclusions about them based on how they view the world, sure - but it will never be more useful than guesswork, because we can’t know how much of the picture is fabricated, made out of the same cloth as the artist and thus carrying their DNA, and how much is the world we all experience, filtered and changed by the artist’s perception and skill.
Every artist has to find their own answer to the “nothing new under the sun” quandary, the problem of realizing that true originality isn’t… really… a thing, that all we dream up is inextricable from all we’ve absorbed and we can never fully claim anything as our own completely uninfluenced, unprecedented idea. This perspective thing has been my answer to it, and it’s worked out all right, in that it’s kept me working for more than a decade.
I know that all art is ultimately derivative, I can make nothing that owes nothing to anyone else, but there’s one thing that no one else can derive, and that’s how it looks to me from where I am. This perspective I’ve got, the view from behind my eyes where I keep all my bullshit, and how that view is tinted and obscured by the bullshit, and how I connect it all to whatever else is in there… no one else can get to that spot to see what I see, and when I die, no one else ever will. What value does that have? Only as much as I can give it - originality counts when the work is done - but it’s exactly as unique as any other perspective, and thus exactly as valuable.
It came from a couple of different places, in a host of different words, but that’s the message that pulled me out of a suicidal hole: No one else can see what you see the way you see it. We need you, not because you are the best but because you are not fungible. If you leave us, we cannot replace you, and we will never see your like again.
That’s what Sects
is about too - it’s me attempting to depict the world I experience, the way it seems to me, with all the attendant dissonance and surreality that makes me such a delight to be around. I’ve gone back and forth on whether I think the rest of you experience anything similar - it seems like a lot of people have some
aberrant sensory experiences and chemical responses, but it doesn’t seem to get in your way a whole lot, or make you struggle with normal conversation because you’re trying to figure out if the floor still exists. Many people seem capable of a surprising amount of solipsism before they start to worry about the responsibility of being God, put it that way. You’ll be happy to know, as figments of my imagination, that I agonize about what I’m putting you through every single day.
Today’s Sects-related poem was somewhat inspired by the print accompanying it: