Art, love, failure and absurdity

It’s a hot day.  The sun is high and across the banks of the river, where children play, the stagnant water carries the detritus of late-night carousing ever on towards the sea.  I stare at the blank screen before me, but all I can think is that I am too hot to think clearly and perhaps, underlying all that, is the vague notion that I might be a piece of shit.

It has been a strange year so far, and my thoughts are muddled and unfocused.  The definitions are blurred, desires confused.  I decide to take a walk, pick through the garbage and the flowers that accumulate with a good life and rally some notion of the future, examine those moments that exist like slivers of gold – precious memories, a few hurtful things; little treasures of their own.

In truth, I work too much. It has always been a problem. I stay up late, I daydream too often, and I can only feign an interest in the necessary things that exist in day to day life. I started out as a a misfit, and then I got a taste for it. Perhaps working too much would be easier to justify if it paid well, but in that moment, as we appraised the list of things we might never have, we hit the ancient speedbump of all sentient life.

“What am I doing with my life?”And therin, lay the rump.

It took a long time for me to consider myself an artist. People would say it, give praise for my music or writing, but I would veer from the notion, afraid of the vague pretentiousness that it seemed to carry.  Artists were  self-absorbed, lacking in humility, ungrounded and ridiculous.

To say I am an artist now, is perhaps the best coping mechanism I have – it is an admission of guilt. I am an artist in as much as I lack the self-control to stop.

In the Tibetan Book Of The Dead (or in the Tibetan Book Of The Dead as recalled by Aldous Huxley, then poorly recalled by me) the soul travels out across an infinite void upon leaving the body.  This expanse of nothingness is the true nature of existence, the tinsel behind the tinsel.  It is vast, empty and absolutely terrifying.

When faced with this reality, the soul cries out – panics, trying to escape, leaping into any empty vessel it can find, desperate for reincarnation.The Tibetan Book Of The Dead gives the user of this existential interface this simple advice:
“Oh noble soul, do not be distracted.”

For me, I can find no better allegory for my own existence.  In reality, I don’t know how to behave, I don’t get the rules of the world we live in and rather than deal with it, I throw up my hands, shout ‘I’m an artist’ and bust out little dirges on the Ukelele.  I wear loud clothes, tie ribbons in my hair, cross-dress and slip between projects like a soul searching for a body, only to emerge, restless and hungry for the next.

It is my nature – an act so often repeated that the mask has fused with the flesh beneath, and somehow, I try to make it look good.

In our culture, we identify art as a specialisation, as a skill, but this notion is confusing.  Art is an expression of the ineffable, an attempt to translate something felt or seen, it is human nature, not a skill that must be graded or deemed worthy before it is allowed.

The moment we put an artist on a stage, we create a division between ourselves and our relationship with art.  We make it an activity that we can only participate in if we are ‘talented’ enough, an embarrassment if it is not our all-consuming passion.

We should let the word ‘hobby’ be reserved for stamp-collecting, art is an inevitable part of our lives.
If you love the art of an artist, then help them and encourage them to keep going, but do not shift people into the realms of idol worship, or sanctify the world they inhabit.It is in human nature to desire importance, to want to define our existence and  to matter to those around us, but this desire has been hoodwinked.  We are a culture obsessed with fame and the famous, we shed public tears for people we have never met but barely notice those that surround us.  We live out fantasies on Twitter and Facebook as our own lives trundle on, attributing meaning to each faceless ‘follow’, as if any of these people give a damn about who we really are.

At best, fame is an ugly by-product of success and success is a by-product of the struggle to not starve as we climb whatever ladder we are constantly being told exists.  This same unbalance  exists in all walks of life – a society in which, rather than each monkey getting a coconut, one monkey sits on a pile of a thousand coconuts, as the rest bow at its feet.

It is the lowest form of bullshit and we should be mindful not to be motivated by the want for such things.

The only certification required to be an artist, is the want to do it.


I walk a lot. Late at night, alone, beneath the stars.

I used to do this more.  When I was younger,  there were hours of restless wandering; early hours, always alone,the world like an abandoned playground.  Room for thought.

It is only this year that I have found myself doing it again, it isn’t healthy, but all the same, it cannot be helped and so, by the river, lights on the water, we ponder these things.  We see them poorly, but believe we see them clearly and lose ourselves in the reverie of each clouded notion.

“What am I doing with my life?”

I don’t know, and perhaps I never will, but we can swear an affidavit, make a gesture of some intent.

I am an artist, because I know no other.  I create trinkets of work, little artifacts of my existence that you are free to appraise – love, hate or feel indifferent about. I will try to make them truly and purely, attempt to forge them without vanity, without the want to impress or the need to be successful.

I will make them because I have to, because they are a by-product of  my memories and my existence, driven by an inability to explain the things that matter most.

I will make them for you, the people I love, not as gifts or scraps of affection, but as gestures you may not ever even see.  I will not cry out your names in the street, but I will utter my gratitude for your presence, in each instance of my toiling and  I will cultivate a space in my heart for each of you – for all the good times and for all the bad – a little garden where these precious things may grow.

I will not hide the absurdity of my being, or act without full measure, for fear of seeming childish – time is too short for those things.  We will revel in the chaos and melodrama of life, understanding that true love is the love that must be fed, or it will devour your heart.

And most of all, I will fail, but in that moment, I will embrace that failure, knead it into my being and form great vans to beat the air; peacock feathers and gilded ornaments, splendid things.

I will not go gently into that night, but I will not expect to be remembered either, for to believe anything lasts is vanity.  For this short moment, we shall see what is real and true, and then this thing that is mine, shall be yours also.

Falsely yours,
Benjamin Akira Tallamy


Liked it? Take a second to support Ben Tallamy on Patreon!