I belonged to the cooperative gallery Blackfish a while ago and this month I rejoined its membership. It’s somewhat unusual to be a writer in the gallery but I always felt at home among visual artists. When I was a teenager, I used to go to Menucha in the Columbia Gorge and I’d write among the artists at their easels. It was the only time in my life I enjoyed writing in public and I can still conjure that studio with its stringent smell of oil, the palettes dotted with colors like miniature abstract expressionist works, the broad, desirable light flooding the studio, which had once been a green house. I was inspired by the work and the workers. Visual artists just seemed so much more industrious than us writers, maybe because the ideas were physicalized. I always felt their aesthetic concerns matched my own, trying to put elements together in a beautiful, expressive, cohesive fashion that left room for the self and left room for an outside eye.
Now that I am a new member I have to produce something. The problem, of course, is that I am not an object maker. When I belonged before, I concentrated on poetry. Like I did a piece on Eliot’s “correlative objective.” I think I was hiding a little, as if poetry had more rights to the objects than fiction (think Keats urn etc.) But I have a feeling it’s going to be different this time around. The first object I’ve produced—for a group show on influences—is a marked up Janson’s “History of Art.” I call it Prepared Janson’s because, I did prepare it and also John Cage was a big influence on me and he coined the term (and the object, and the idea) “prepared piano.” I also listed as an influence “an ugly thing that contains a beautiful thing” because, man, a marked up book is an ugly thing. And I really marked it up, too, underlining, angry accusations, lots of exclamation points (so true!!!!!) and such. I also put in funny stuff, cryptic things, scholarly items. I seriously doubt anyone will read it but I felt compelled to make it as if I had to stand behind every statement. As I sat there for hours with my pencil sharpener and my highlighter, I also had hours to think about art and commentary, and how powerful pictures make us want to talk about them. I feel kind of bad making something ugly for my return but I’m hoping there is nowhere to go but up. I think I’m going to be the member that starts conversations, like little fires among the artists that illuminate, not consume their works.