FAILURE AS AN ART FORM OF OUR TIMES

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus, Brueghel The Elder, 1558

The other day I passed an unfortunate person I used to know a few years ago on the live arts scene. They didnt recognise me or pretended not to – i don’t mind that, i often do that myself if I’m not in the form for people. Sometimes I wish everybody else would do it too & leave me alone – unless they have some urgent revelation to pass on.

The person didnt look well atall. Something about the pale & puffy cheeks and the slow, deliberate gait, as well as glazed-over eyes suggested breakdown, heavy medication.

This person is very talented and original and entertaining. They are intensely professional and their shows are top notch – the small audiences (a couple of hundred on occasion) really loved the work. They tried really hard to make some sort of sustainable life for themselves in the arts – which simply means being able to afford to spend enough time developing & producing original work (art takes a lot of time, which must be financed).

They believed that such a thing as a sustainable life in the performing arts was possible for someone like them, a young person from outside middle class Dublin without well-off parents, a person without any foothold in the overlapping ‘networks’ in media (msm & twitter), NGOs, & the established arts world who between them strongly influence the outcomes for literary & performance artists in Ireland.

But such a sustainable arts life really isn’t possible for most of us & it can be something of a calvary to persist in the belief that it is possible – & so the bookings didn’t come rolling in and the grant applications were all rejected and eventually it got too hard & too heartbreaking and they gave up and now they have to live the rest of their lives as someone whose dream has utterly failed.

That’s the fate of many, perhaps most artists, in Ireland at least. Failure and dejection. Mostly, it’s got nothing to do with talent. Relatively talentless people ‘succeed’ in the arts all the time, and uniquely talented people often get nowhere.

Bad luck too plays a role in artistic failure. Lack of ‘good connections’ & ‘networking skills’ maybe an even greater one. And lack of cunning too. The Arts world in Dublin is no place for the innocent or gullible.

The Arts world is also a business world and if you ain’t gonna make somebody already richer even richer again with your show, book, album etc, then you will not ‘succeed’ in the long run
no matter how gifted you are.

Maybe failure on this disintegrating civilizations terms is an artform of its own though.

Maybe failure is the proper artform for our time of breakdowns and doomed dreams.

This aspect of irredeemable disappointment, this gaze of desolation – as desolating as the desolation it surveys – this heavily medicated slouch towards nowhere in particular, all of which I witnessed in my fellow artist the other day – perhaps these are the signs of a true artist nowadays, wherein sickness is health, & health sickness.