By Garry Barker
Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’ was my first exposure to the idea of the artist’s life, meant to be a comedy, I read it as straight and saw for the first time an avenue of escape from the grime of the Black Country. I was soon to read W. S. Maugham’s ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ and became totally fascinated by the character Charles Strickland and following that I found a new hero in Gulley Jimson, Joyce Cary’s lead character in ‘The Horse’s Mouth’. Before I became aware of Gauguin I was therefore aware of him as his alter-egosStrickland and Hancock and before I came across the great expressionists like Kirchner and Max Beckmann, I had a model for their lives in Jimson. It took film to popularise these books and the fact that my early models for an artist were Tony Hancock and Alec Guinness has perhaps ensured that my understanding of what it is to be an artist is fundamentally comic and performative.
I have since of course spent a long life in art education and have had to introduce the idea of art to students for almost 40 years. As I have introduced changing concepts of what it is to practice I have also been aware that if students were to take these concepts on board the concepts would need to come with a powerful story behind them, a story that students would want to inhabit themselves. This is about rhetoric and its lesson that a convincing storyline must be supported by rhetoric tropes such as metaphor, simile, and personification as well as body mannerisms and voice inflection, both things that novel writers are very good at integrating into their texts.
“I tell you he has genius. I’m convinced of it. In a hundred years, if you or I are remembered at all, it will be because we knew Charles Strickland.” Thus states the fictional artist Dirk Stroeve in the Moon and Sixpence. Perhaps this is at the core of the Romantic call. Our pale lives are led out in insignificance, the great times of glory to be had in battle and exploratory adventure now gone and for some, the fiction of art is a wonderful escape into a life that has already been fictionalised, into a role that waits for them. A role honed and shaped by literature perhaps far more than the reality of life.
The accompanying book, ‘Art and Fiction’ is a text that attempts to highlight the importance of literature in our understanding of what it is to be an artist and it further seeks to help point to how ideas of art have been used by society to work through other concepts of value, the transcendent in everyday life and what it is to follow your own beliefs within an increasingly uniform world, not by providing an entry into theory, but by providing a gateway into fiction.
GB Sept 13th 2013
Please follow the link for details of the exhibition: Ekphrasis: an exhibition of physical fiction