There were those who went to cathedrals… paged through hagiographies of the saints, and were possessed by the insatiable desire to become what they knew was impossibly beyond them. I went to art museums… The Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City… from childhood… and books of reproductions… hagiographies of artists.
Then there was my mother—exquisitely gifted, penmanship, drawing, who told me: “Don’t ever be an artist! Artists are the most selfish people on earth! But if you are an artist… there’s nothing you can do to help yourself.” And my uncle… my mother’s brother… another prodigy, in his skills as a draftsman. Only 13 years older. We went on excursions together to draw and paint. They weren't the Saints I aspired to… I had aspirations beyond them… or my own poor talents. So I gave it up.
Not all at once. In bits and spurts. Art classes. Semesters majoring in art. A brief spurt of working at painting—rebuffed… by the founders of the Painted Bride! Where I read poetry at a reading when they were still on South Street—and primarily a gallery.
So to call myself an ‘artist’ is not unlike someone brought up in a religious tradition claiming he or she was a ‘saint.’ You compare yourself only with the greatest… and have to filter out all the contemporaries who taught them and worked with them and were, maybe now forgotten, but an indispensable part of what they became. You see that with poetry… all the arts. It’s the one’s most easily appropriated who last. Maybe, sometimes, the “best”.. but that idea of who is the ‘best,’ of who are the ‘saints’ … is all about, who best represents the unquestionable, current version of “Reality” …. whether aesthetic or political or… Not their fault, that they’ve been appropriated.
All art is free… forever, but its misrepresentations, its Ersatz incorporation—its iconization—which is what makes it into a commodity… makes it ‘for sale,’ … what most confuse with the thing itself… Not that different than with saints, is it? Their specialty is but a means to sell and use them. When to be a ‘saint’… or an artist… is within the grasp of everyone.
And so to be an artist… to become an artist… to admit to myself, that I was… that I am, an artist.. I had first to become a revolutionary. To admit that the ordinary was not my kingdom. That was how I found my wings. If I can say to myself now… without apologies, or scare-quotes, that…yes, I am an artist. It was because I first had to discover my revolutionary roots.
So may we all!
No Revolution, Without Art, Without Poetry! No Art, no Poetry—without Revolution!