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Posts tagged ‘imaginary’

Passion, Obsession and Curiosity at the Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London

What makes art?

Alternative Guide to the Universe (photo credit: www.southbankcentre.co.uk)

Alternative Guide to the Universe (photo credit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk)

A listener posed this  question to our tour guide as we stood looking at two art gallery walls covered with self-portraits of a bag lady, taken in various public photo booths.

And this  was the question I pondered as I , with my two teenage children, looked round an exhibition of wonders at the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank last Saturday.

There, displayed for us in The Alternative Guide to the Universe, were the outpourings of unlicensed architects, off-beam physicists, self-taught  artists, arcane code creators, numerologists and  mystical theorizers; untrained farmer-inventors of automata and robots, constructors of imaginary buildings and cities from discarded packaging, and proponents of new theories to replace gravity and relativity.

We gazed at elaborate designs for a robot to roam the universe, and crack the mystery of life after death, with a complex scheme for a new language with which this  robot would communicate these truths to the future inhabitants of planet earth.

We viewed images of exquisite dolls of children and young people which had been created by one man over 20 years, dressed in clothes  he designed and made himself, then posed in numerous positions and photographed; and finally, packed away carefully, not to be seen again by anyone until after his death.

What makes art? I asked myself.

And answers immediately flooded in:

Passion.

Obsession.

Devotion.

Dedication.

A long obedience  in the same  direction.

The creators of the works we saw were a direct inspiration and encouragement to me as a writer.

Some are long-term residents in psychiatric institutions, others are on the fringes of society, just inside the cusp of (apparent) normality.

And they are all remarkable, exceptional people.

And they all have this in common:

They are focussed, committed, and  they direct all their energy into one project consistently, over a number of years  which can range from one to three decades.

If you have this kind of commitment you too could in theory create exquisite things.

Your ideas might not ‘work’, but if you are creative in this life, and you leave a body of work behind you that is intriguing and beguiling and fills people with wonder and amazement and awe, you have added something of lasting value to this world. You may even have fulfilled your God-given purpose.

Childhood Imaginary Worlds

When I was a little girl, my friend Alison and I created imaginary worlds.

A map of the imaginary world "Coneland" created by Alison & Sheila as children

A map of the imaginary world “Coneland” created by Alison & Sheila as children

One of these was the land we named “Coneland”. We wrote stories about the royal family of this land; at the bottom righthand corner of the map is the palace and the royal park, situated of course in the capital city, Coneington.

Alison is now a gifted textile artist who regularly exhibits her work in London and throughout the UK. Early expressions of her creative imagination may be seen in the worlds we designed before the age of 10.

Among the most famous examples of imaginary childhood worlds is that composed by the Bronte sisters, “Gondal”. Emily and Charlotte and their siblings actively worked on the complicated fantasy world of “Gondal” for 16 years, and some of their creations at this time may be seen in the Bronte Museum at Howarth in Yorkshire.

Painting of the Bronte sisters by Branwell Bronte

Painting of the Bronte sisters by Branwell Bronte

Of course, the artist Grayson Perry is well known for his childhood teddy bear Alan Measles, who was “the dictator and god of the imaginary world” in which Grayson Perry dwelt throughout his childhood (and of course well into his adulthood!)

In 1979 an author called Robert Silvey wrote a letter to “The Author”, a journal published by the Society of Authors, in which he invited contact from anyone who had created imaginary worlds in their childhood. He was gathering material for a book which was to be An Enquiry into the Imaginative Worlds of Childhood.

Alison and I sent off copies of our material; pictures and maps, a description of our imaginary world, the land of “Coneland” and its inhabitants.

This is an extract from Robert Silvey’s reply:

 “It’s so interesting having two perspectives on this same ‘paracosm‘ (as we call it). The first thing that struck me about the map of Coneland was the similarity of the outline to that of the New Hiniwan States of which I was for some years the President. I suspect that this similarity has something to do with the dimensions of foolscap paper!”

Sadly, Robert Silvey died before completing the book.

But it remains true, as he said in his original letter to “The Author” magazine, that “had it not been for the subsequent fame of the Bronte sisters, no one would ever have heard of Gondal or Angria. Yet they were not the first, not will they be the last, children whose fantasy-life takes the form of an imaginary world.

Did you ever create imaginary worlds during your childhood? And how has that influenced your adult life and vocation? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

 

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