What was Yoko Ono playing at, writing “This is Not Here” above a door, and calling it art? And how do I go about making some dosh myself, putting a sign that says something like, “This is Not a Penguin” with a pointy arrow, and placing it over a towel rack, or perhaps an old wireless?
What if I were to paint an entire canvas yellow – edge to edge, the whole shebang – and title it “Purple”? Would that be art?
What is art? And who gets to decide? Critics, other artists, the Great Washed and Unwashed alike?
A few days ago, I received some cards through the posts. The original prints are by Jo Cox, the artist mother of Tom Cox, author and creator of the “My Sad Cat” and “My Smug Cat” books, Twitter accounts, and photos.
I’m thinking of framing one of them, probably “Sad News on the Radio”, as my monthly radio show has been such a positive thing in my life for over five years now. And the August, September, and October shows are very much on my mind.
I don’t tend to think of our house as having a lot of art, possibly because we have family down in Devon who have loads of original paintings, by a variety of artists. The last and so far only time I stayed, I asked if they were collectors? No, came the reply, we just know a lot of artists.
One of my relatives, Richard, is an extremely talented print maker, and has created some fabulous cards, prints, and notebooks featuring some of his local trees. Once, when he stopped over with us, Richard said we should charge admission, there was so much to look at.
I think we’re both frustrated artists, he and I, as well as both being writers. This explains why so much of the wall space is covered with pictures, photos, and objet d’art.
It gives the house – which is Victorian – a Victorian look, at least downstairs, though we’ve not got what the British call “stuffed animals” (1), ie, taxidermy.
I’m with Ace – one of my favourite Classic Who companions – when, in one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes, “Ghostlight”, she disdainfully refers to taxidermy as “dead things”. And yet, I’m as fascinated as any naturalist whenever I come across the flotsam and jetsam of the natural world: a blue egg shell, possibly from a starling; the skeleton of what I fear was probably one of my favourite birds, a blackbird.
Many years ago, a friend and I stayed in a teepee on a laird’s estate, near Balmoral. We rented it from a Danish woman who had married a chap from Leeds, and later moved up to Scotland. She made the teepee, as well as a variety of North-American style objects, some of which – such as dreamcatchers, and pipes – she constructed from roadkill she found on the little lanes around the area, which had litle industry save the local distillery.
She showed us round her workshop, and commented how unphased we were by her collection of skulls, teeth, and other bones, as well as feathers, and fur. Many visitors, it seemed, were distressed by these things. But, as it happened, my friend and I were – and are – both vegetarian.
The explained a lot, she said.
Back to Yoko, and the door that “is Not Here”. How much more useful to be able to create a sign which says “I am Not Here”, attach it to a pole, and hold it above my head, on those days when it all gets too much? When I could – if I only drove, and could afford the petrol – just jump in the car, and head up to Scotland, and that Danish lady’s Balmoral teepee?
To go where the only thing breaking my peace isn’t other people, or car alarms, or someone else’s choice of music, but a peacock who’s desperately trying to get the attention of a couple of peahens?
Where art is a sunset, and there’s all the time in the world to sit, and to write. To sleep near a fire, under the stars, then wake up, and to write, then to write some more.