…hmmmm. Last night I had the pleasure of attending the last Unscripted session, Straight From the (Rural) Hip hosted by the Dunlop Gallery at the Regina Public Library. The conversation included Heather Benning, Heather Cline, Joe Fafard, Angus Ferguson, and Terry O’Flanagan. It was interesting to listen to the experience and role of the artist in the rural setting, and compare this to my rant about the prairie poet.
So, here I sit in the city, with my laptop, headphones on, music blaring (tonight it’s Leela James as I’m pretty much finished with the Damien Rice for now) thinking about how the conversation was structured around the differences in perception of rural and urban artists, and the consequences, problems, benefits, and reasons in their isolation and art. Really, not much different than the prairie poet. The need to create a sense of community about our art is strong, but (and I forget exactly who said this) is there a point where we create a community around us simply to talk about our art, rather than focusing on getting our art out, or even creating more art, for the public? Of course, what this reminds me of is Ezra Pound, and his notion of creating a sense of community, and how this has trickled down (into/throughout) the past hundred years to our own community, and the outcroppings of creative writing programs, and their immediate sense of community. And where am I going with this, you’re asking yourself right now, and I’m not really sure. The word nostalgia came up often in the conversation. Are we nostalgic to want to create our art from a space we know, rather than one we don’t, and what does this say about us as creators? I don’t know that there were any hard answers, but I wanted to know more about what makes the prairie gothic work, what makes it exist, what is it? Why are these definitions so hard to pin down? Much like the term “prairie poet” afflicts us just for being here, does the label “rural artist” hold the same weight in the world? I’m still thinking on these things, with no real answers other than the fact that we are all aware of our roots, where we come from, and some of us like to keep digging at the ground around them, just to make sure the roots are still there.
Interesting thoughts, Tracy. Ï like posts like this; posts that pose questions, make me think, explore ideas.
How do I create art from a space I don’t know? How much “knowing” is required for me to say I don’t know a space? If I can indeed create art from a space I don’t know, does this mean the art I produce arises purely from my imagination? When you say, “…a space we know,” do you mean it in the sense of knowing well, or intimately—in which case the question becomes more one of how well we need to know a place if it is to inspire our art?
I suspect part (perhaps most) of the problem of defining terms like “prairie poet” or “rural artist” arises because, while it’s possible to identify people who clearly could or could not be called prairie poets and rural artists, others have characteristics of both, and any attempt to define a boundary is necessarily artificial—it doesn’t exist. It’s like trying to define the exact moment at which I became an adult (well, bad example, perhaps—maybe I never did…)
At a simple level, I wouldn’t like to be labelled a “rural artist”, not because I loathe labels, nor because I have mixed feelings about whether what I do is “art” (an almost impossibly complex, frustrating, and perhaps largely meaningless word), but simply because here in Aotearoa it strongly suggests I’d be producing needlework of flowers and sheep, or paintings of farmland with old sheds and sheep. You probably get the picture.
Hey Pete, thanks for the great comments.
I agree with you about space, and how for some, the need be in a space we don’t know does push us further into the imagination. For me, I like to write from a space where I can get into a zone and the rest of the world really doesn’t exist; however, I can often do this anywhere, just by blocking everything else out. Not everyone can do that. I create from within even if I’m using a visual medium as a jumping off point, but on the other hand, many people want to create art from a space that is external to their head, they want to represent not what is inside, but what is out. Perhaps, this is the difference, rather than whether we are rural or urban. The representational as opposed to the non-representational. I think knowing an environment well in this case is a part of the representation.
This reminds me of someone saying that if you use the word horizon in a poem, you must be a prairie poet. I inquired as whether there were horizons elsewhere, and if not, why not?
I wanted to ask questions during the conversations, which we were allowed to do, but kept getting wrapped up so much in my own thoughts that by the time I’d formulated what I thought was a relevant question, the evening was over.
Maybe what we should do is focus on our similarities as artists rather than our differences. Focus on our commonalities, but perhaps that would be boring in the end. Maybe we could make labels work for us rather than against? Or not.