Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
But is it Art?
Over the years, the answer to the question "What do you do, then?', posed by strangers at parties, has become increasingly more difficult.
In the early days it was easy - "I'm an Art Student", followed 4 years later by, "I'm on the dole".
Then a couple of years later, it was "I'm a Layout Artist" - end of conversation.
Three years after that, I became so claustrophobic with working between a small office and a dark-room, that I became a builder. If I said I was a builder, then I jolly well was one. The trouble was that I didn't look like one - or one from the popular imagination of one is supposed to look like.
People at parties - mistaking me for a gentleman builder - would ask how large my company was and how many employees I had and I would say, "One. Me".
When working alongside real builders, the only way I could get any respect from them was to make a big deal out of displays of strength and skill - preferably combined in one act.
After a couple of years of this, I decided to concentrate my attention on Stonemasonry, and burnt all my bridges in one week by turning down many offers of lucrative but ordinary building work. It was then that the phone stopped ringing for about a year. If you tell people you are one thing, they never come to you for anything other than that one thing.
I consorted in pubs with fully trained apprentice masons, who all thought I had not paid my dues, so did not have the right to call myself a mason. I simply pointed out that my level of skill was quite a bit greater than theirs, despite having had no formal education, so if I wanted to call myself a mason, I jolly well would.
The world of stone masonry started to blur with the associated world of stone conservation, and that - in it's turn - inevitably merged with stone carving.
People at parties would - and still do - ask, "You're a stone mason, aren't you?"
"No. I'm a stone carver."
"What's the difference?"
"Well for a start, a mason is a tradesman, and I am a professional. This is the most important difference."
These days - if I can get away with it - I call myself a 'sculptor'. This always leads to even more boring misunderstandings, and most people think they have categorised me by responding. "Oh, you're an artist!" to which I say, "No. I am a sculptor."
"What's the difference?" Here we go again.
I have just listened to Grayson Perry's second Reith Lecture, which dealt - very nicely - with these fine lines between Art and artistry, but it took a whole half hour of quickly delivered words to get the message across, and I bet it still didn't sink in with most of the audience.
We haven't heard from Sarah Toa for a while, but I bet she is practicing answering that question at parties with the words, "I am a writer!" for the first time, and enjoying the simplicity of it all.