The Prism & the Butcher
There was a man who created art. He created paintings, drawings, poems and artwork, and he created it from pieces of himself. At first he did not realise that he was creating work from only himself, but as time went on and he created more he felt parts of himself disappearing. After several years of creating art his left arm was almost completely gone. He consulted a doctor, who told him that his left arm was perfectly present and functional. But the man couldn’t see it or feel it or touch it, and he grew very worried but he did not stop creating.
It wasn’t long before his feet started to disappear, then his calves up to the knees, and then his ears, his nose and the round of his butt cheeks. It was when his right arm began to go that he slowed down, learning to use his mouth to paint, draw and dictate. He had slowly become successful as an artist, but when his creating slowed down his manager knew that something had to be done. She put the word out that the artist was struggling, that he was disappearing into his work, and through a network of other artists and agents they found Clara. Clara had worked as an artist since before she could walk and was now ninety years old with no signs of slowing down. She showed up at the man’s front door with a feathery scarf and few manners and set herself up in the large front room where he usually did his work.
‘I admire your commitment thus far,’ she said in her straightforward manner ‘but if you continue this way you will quite literally lose yourself in your work, and as interesting as that would be from a medical standpoint, it does not aid you in continuing your work; you will be unable to create from inside your creations.’
He frowned, annoyed that his agent had set this strange nonsense-talking woman on him.
‘You are making art like a butcher; cutting pieces from yourself to construct your work. The work itself is acceptable, but it is all about you, and as you can see it is slowly killing you.’
He frowned even deeper, surprised that she was not praising his work as everyone else did. His work was all about himself and his life; he drew from his few worldly experiences and wrote from the heart: directly, apparently. He said as much to Clara.
She tapped a long paintbrush on the ground impatiently. ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been saying; your work is you, you are your work. You must not act as a butcher artist, removing aspects of yourself and your life and simply putting it into shapes, colours and words. You must be a prism, first taking in and then casting out. You must absorb the work of others, the work of nature, the work of deep thought, then mix and rearrange them, split and redirect them into your own work. This is inspiration my dear; the ability to consume and redirect, take in and re-mould. Do you understand?’
The man nodded slightly, unimpressed by this interpretation of the work of an artist. He had lived and worked as an artist for years; he knew what art was and how to create it!
She stayed for several days, redirecting the man into better practices that would halt his disappearing self. When she left him she gave him several books of poetry, literature and photography, telling him to absorb them all and redirect them into his own work, as well as a list of further reading and viewing with the hope of inspiring him out of his infatuation with himself.
Clara returned to her own work, spending days reading books, weeks travelling and visiting museums and galleries, then months painting, writing and creating from what she had seen, just as she had always done. When next she heard of the man it was an obituary mourning his passing. She visited the man’s agent, who told her sadly ‘He did not take your advice well. He tried, I do believe that for a while he tried to be inspired and create from places other than himself. But he was too far gone, so committed to turning himself into a work of art that he really, finally did.’
Clara attended the exhibition of the man’s final work and found in his paintings and writings fragments of him, snippets of his personality, moments of his being, all encompassed by a mass of meandering nothingness, like a soup stretched too far with only a little flavour left in it. As she left she sighed and shook her head sadly, then went home and wrote a brief, beautiful poem about the futility of narcissism.