Yesterday I rented Monster's Road, a documentary about a prolific yet obscure clay animator named Bruce Bickford. I highly recommend the film- this guy is fascinating. Not only because of his talent or unbelievably voluminous attention to the tiniest of details, sculpting dozens and dozens of almost identical forms descending in size millimeter by millimeter, not only because he's essentially a one-man movie-studio and his father is positively Shakespearean with his half-genius, half-curmudgeon, all alzheimer-inspired haze of eerie pondrances, but because Bruce is clearly working through some issues.
This guy is the perfect example of why 99.9% of art and literary criticism is laughable. Before I saw the documentary I sat through Bruce Bickford's animated short Prometheus's Garden, and I was throwing around all sorts of ancient Greek symbolism, Dadaism, stuff from Freud and Proust, isms here, isms there, isms isms everywhere. Turns out Bruce was beat up a lot as a little kid, and he vented his frustration by imagining a word in which "little guys" could have power- the power to punish jerks, to become giants, and the power to create.
Bruce shakes his head with bewilderment describing his reaction when someone asked him to describe the symbolism in his film... for Bruce, a story is just a story, and there doesn't have to be an explicit reason for the warrior to morph into a giant werewolf/milkshake... (you just have to check it out, believe me.)
It's not entirely uplifting. Bruce's work has been largely unrecognized and underappreciated, his relationship with his father seems icy at best, and although he has produced a massive amount of material and is proud of his work, sometimes I thought he seemed a little lonely surrounded by all of his thousands of sculpted clay figures... a little lost.
But he's also extremely self-reflective and admits that all the dark fantasies which resulted from his sucky childhood were channeled into his art. I find this idea extremely appealing. Especially during a time when I'm looking back over the past 17 years in academia and hating myself for not being more...
More of everything. More social, more serious about practicing music, more accepting, more relaxed, more adventurous, more studious, more fun... Sometimes it seems like there's no hope of starting today fresh because there have been so many shitty days prior. Days when you didn't do your best, days when other people screwed you over and stole away your sunshine, days of disappointment and failed diets and dumped dates. Sometimes it feels like you're working against the massive pull of that vast darkness, and that it's not even logical to hope you can overcome.
Well Bruce didn't overcome so much as repurpose. He took all the blackness and rolled it around in his palms until it was soft and pliable and he used it- prodded and sculpted and beat it into hundreds of thousands of frames of concentrated energy... truly an art of catharsis. This guy has modeled one rocky childhood into an ever-evolving, unbelievably complex source of inspiration. None of this art would have ever existed if he'd grown up with The Cleavers.
Which is to say, don't despair of an un-ideal past, of missed opportunities and regrettable happenings which you think may be holding you back. They might just as well be the very palate which you'll use to paint the newest, most innovative, and passionate chapter of your own story.
We're all goddamn crazy. And people who seem the least crazy are usually simmering the fiercest just below the surface. So take all that crazy and use it to sculpt something awesome. You are in charge of your story, and you might as well make it so that all the bullshit was worth your while in the end. Then you'll have gotten the better of every darkness. You'll be using it, instead of the other way around.
I'm not saying artists are the happiest people in the world. But I am saying there's a reason perfect people don't make art. Either they don't exist, or they don't have enough clay.
Keep smiling, keep believing, keep me posted.