Who was there:

Llloyd Davis, Ray Malone, Axelina Heagney, Marit Baarslad, Evaristo Westplate, Simon, Andrew Lee, Patrick (maybe) Duncan?, Jamie Zubari, Tom Wright, Steven Laverty, Bob Griffiths, Loren O’Diar, Phelim McDermott.

What happened:

I called this session because I am exploring what ‘Your Life is a Work of Art’ means as a proposition and an outlook on life. It is the title of a poem I wrote and I called a session with the same title last year at D&D12 as well. I read the poem and asked people what they found meaningful about the session title and/or the poem.

The poem is at the end of this report and also here https://yourlifeisaworkofart.com/about/

Themes and threads in the discussion:

[NB I’ve generally not attributed the comments. I wasn’t always sure of matching the name with the comment. In some cases it’s in inverted commas to indicate it’s not my voice, however in some cases it’s not verbatim and I’m aware that I’m summarising what people said. If you see your comment/ideas here and would like to be attributed, please comment below ☺]

• How you edit and frame experience is key – from a psychological perspective. There are many staged, first-person verbatim life experiences. Bryony Kimming’s play 'Sex Idiot' about STDs was mentioned. Also Lynda Barry and her visual diary process – art being what you make from a certain state of being, and questions of the image one presents.
• What is the difference between art and ‘nature’ where there is growth and proliferation and adaptation, not just a narrative, linear story. There is art that is framed non-narrative material, on stage and off. Stories is not all that theatre does.
• ‘The shine that you bring to the story’ – a line from the poem came up a few times.
• Autobiographical solo work around experience of homelessness (“I’m sleeping on sofas and I’m safe”). This kind of work often breaks down into several categories: woe is me/poor me, chase me, fuck me. In some the audience is a therapist of sorts. How do we erode these narratives?
• “I write plays and paint. All of it is taken from my life. In a 3-hander, I’m beginning to realise that characters I didn’t think were me do represent aspects of me.”
• “People using my story – of PTSD as a kid – in their works. With my permission. It’s a different experience when someone does it comedically.”
• This means that the art that is someone’s life is seen through the lens of knowing it happened, that the person gave permission for it to be represented and of seeing it played out by other people – all of which can add to the experience feeling impressive to the audience.
• ‘The shine that you bring to the story’ might imply on the one hand something being polished or of it having light shone onto it. Either way, something radiates.
• There is a sense of validating our existence, being a point of light among many others. The world is darker without that life. We connect points of light – a constellation.
• Maybe we are a chain of lights like a Christmas tree where we each need to shine in order for the whole thing to radiate.
• A wonderful lives-as-books metaphor was brought out in a poem Patrick offered (I’d love to get the text of that!). Vision maker – seeing in the dark. A play based on Paradise Lost that involves 10 devils and 10 subpersonalities, all of which allow expression of one life. “My life isn’t that interesting” – an assertion which others challenged! Patrick called a session called ‘The Full Spectrum’ and talked about the “battle against reductionism” and the use of the term ‘the industry’ to talk about theatre and the arts.
• “It’s not about my life appearing in the art. I’m facilitating artists in 1-person shows. There’s a pressure to put everything you ever wanted to say into it.”
• Take the pressure off – that show is one wave/manifestation from a life in which there is more to come.
• I added the line ‘it’s yours to inhabit’ into the poem.
• Finally admitting the trauma is freeing.
• Not admitting the difficulties of life – not inhabiting it – means inhibiting it. Denial is a suck on energy.
• The trap of pouring too much of one’s story into the art.
• I had dilemmas about making the yourlifeisaworkofart.com website. It could contain this, that, everything. But it doesn’t have to.
• (Writing these notes is similar! There’s probably way too much in here. But then again – having taken notes last year and put them in a report, I have found that useful so I hope that this is too. At least for me!)
• “I’m conTENT without packaging” vs “I’m CONtent without packaging.” Patrick and “meta-form-osis”.
• Someone came to the session because the title made her think of her circus performer friend Masha. “I admire how she lives her life. She applies rigorous fullness of expression” to all aspects of it. Masha grew up around circus and Slava whose house is amazing. People there who’d say, “I’ve never done a day’s work in my life” and who had made the frame of their art so huge that it contained everything.
• “I aim to live a life of authenticity. I bring the feelings of the day into performance.”
• Zooby was familiar with the poem and had been given a copy by Paul Oertel and has enjoyed looking at its converse: ‘Your art is a work of life’ which got us talking about the challenge of art as freely felt expression and work as the effort of shaping that into/through a particular form.
• The challenge of going from flow – a rough sketch – and meeting a brief, an expectation, a deadline, a commission.
• Verb vs noun. Process vs product. Art vs exhibition. Wanting to share the process.
• Social media giving us insights into the rehearsal room and backstage videos.
• Becoming an instrument – resonating.
• I talked about the conversation Marit and I had on Day 1 about the feeling she gets – something like impressed/inspired/awe/motivated – when witnessing people cooperating eg at Open Space, or behind the scenes in a production – or even listening to an organ, when the organist can feel like the instrument as much as the organ pipes and all the machinery.
• How an orchestra performs – so remarkable. More so than theatre in some ways.
• How to bring art into any area of life, including business.
• It’s a game. “I try and buttter my toast like Van Gogh and make something quickly before the butte melts”
• Talking of the mundane, we looked in our pockets – like the line ‘when your pocket spills a picture that says it all’.
• And we talked about the difference between spilling it – presenting everything as is – and framing/curating/arranging.
• Lloyd said people sometimes ‘accuse’ him of arranging things in his Instagram pictures to look more ‘arty’ but it’s just a question of framing.
• The frame is a filter, the channel is a filter, the filters are filters.
• I asked for some advice about Instagram where I’ve also started an account for @YourLifeisAWorkOfArt
• It depends what your intention is …
• “I see Your Life is a Work of Art as not just a book and a set of workshops to help bored people have a slightly more interesting life.”
• This was really interesting and exciting to hear! I hadn’t mentioned workshops or a book, although I have thought about both.
• What about NON social media. Putting the poem out into the world in other ways, perhaps by stealth including putting it in library books, guerilla style.
• Have an end point goal that could also be a beginning.
• “I want to do a solo performance at the Globe as the world’s most famous unknown actor.”
• But if we are all a work of art, how does it look? Our combined lives? When many of those lives are unhappy? Or shit?
• “Life is suffering AND we can transcend that.”
• “You have to be creative to survive even when you’re depressed.”
• And what is ‘a work of art’. There are so many art works that don’t get looked at.
• This got me thinking about all the sub-propositions that are implicit in ‘your life is a work of art’ …
• Your life is a work of art’ as a proposition implies a lot of things:
- art is not just visual art
- art is not just exhibited, performed, a product, of ‘the industry’, done by ‘professionals’
- a work of art is a process, imperfect, collaborative
- there is effort involved
- it happens every day
- it has started already
- it is ongoing
- it doesn’t require an audience
- it is about attention, presence, being a channel
- that we are all artists
- that it is not about me
- that art/something/creativity flows through us
- the explosion of ‘traditional’ notions of what a ‘work of art’ is
- an explosion that is foundational to all life
- divinity
- originality
- infinity
- light
- love
• Your life is a work of art gives permission to exist. “I’m allowed to be here.” “It’s not just the art that’s in the books.” “It’s ALL the stars, the whole constellation.”
• “Or else … your life is what? Nothing.”
• Phelim talked about an ‘episode’ of Life Game where a woman talked about her dying father and how “he didn’t talk to me, all we did was sweep the garden path.” When she witnessed others playing out this scene she said “Oh – that’s what we did” and recognised how she helped him prepare the pathway towards his death. Not a dry eye in the remains of the session.
• ‘Your own reflection when you least expect it.’

Thank you so much to everyone who came along!

I welcome comments and questions here also on:

facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yourlifeisaworkofart/ &
instagram https://www.instagram.com/yourlifeisaworkofart/

Your Life Is A Work Of Art

In the blink of an eye
on an ordinary day

When your pocket spills a
picture that says it all

When the street you’re in
is a scene from a film

When your soundscape
whirlwinds in a single kiss

Your life is a work of art.

The shine that you
bring to the story

The way that you
wear that hat

The faces you saw
in the cracks on the floor

Your life is a work of art.

When you and your
friends strike a pose

The reason that you
chose those rhymes

The angles of your arms
at the end of the dance

Your life is a work of art.

Your own reflection
when you least expect it

Or colours caught in your
drawer of clothes

A collage of everything
you’ve ever left behind

Your life is a work of art.

How you frame it
when you see it
because you sense it
and how you edit.

It’s yours to inhabit
It’s yours to exhibit
You are the creator
You are the curator.

Your life is a work of art.

© Elspeth Murray 2009