CAITLIN ROWLEY
composer

Adventures in amateurism

One of the aspects of Richard Long’s artmaking practice that has me totally intrigued as I’ve been researching his work for Crossing Dartmoor, is the aspect of the amateur that is almost fundamental to his gallery work. By this I mean that the work he displays uses media and formats (photography, mapping, graphics, text) which are not his primary area of training (sculpture).

In particular I love that his earliest mature work – from A Line Made By Walking onwards – was created not as ‘art’ but as documentation. I suspect that if he’d set out to Make A Photograph of A Line Made By Walking, his entire career would have been quite different. Maybe he wouldn’t have done it at all if he’d felt he couldn’t create a good enough photo; maybe he’d have found a photographer to team up with. But because he did it himself with whatever camera he had and had the image processed at a local chemist shop, this has kind of set the scene for a sort of DIY approach to his work which, while meticulous and professional, also gives a different perspective because his images probably aren’t what a professional photographer would have done; his textworks aren’t what a poet would have done; the way he uses maps definitely is not what a cartographer would do. So his being a sculptor permeates everything and allows him a freedom in these works that possibly he might not have had, had he started from a point of learning how to do these things ‘properly’.

I don’t mean for an instant that he doesn’t know what he’s doing – obviously, over the years, he’s become an extremely good photographer, wordsmith, etc. because he’s done a lot of it, but he is first and foremost a sculptor and I think that liberates his non-sculptural work to be something a little different.

So I’ve been thinking – for a few months now – about what amateurism could mean within my own practice. What are the things I do or could do that are not my principal area of study? How could exploring these areas result in new work, possibly more exciting work, or work which sheds light on my Main Thing, which is notated art music?

A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation on my working process and our head of department asked me “how would it be if you stopped apologising for your art and just called it art and let other people make up their minds whether they think it’s any good?”. Of course, he’s absolutely right, and one of the outcomes of this has been a realisation of how much work I’m not doing because I feel, for example, that my singing voice is untrained, I don’t practice the flute enough and I don’t feel I have enough experience with field recordings and other recorded forms of music to know whether what I am producing is OK or actually the electroacoustic equivalent of Comic Sans.

And I’m beginning to think that if I’m to really embrace these ideas I’m researching, then I need to be embracing my own amateurism and making use of the skillset, even if limited, that I have in areas other than notated composition.

This is, of course, also bound up with the thread of fear and embracing uncertainty that runs throughout this project. I’ve been researching this topic and exploring different ways of handling my fear ever since the year started and it’s starting to pay off, to the extent that lately I’ve been finding myself just doing things that normally I’d shrink from on the grounds of being an amateur without even really thinking about it. With the result that I’m now creating artworks intended for gallery display – even for sale! – for an exhibition in the summer; and a couple of weeks ago I sang solo in front of an audience for the first time ever – sight-reading two pages of John Cage’s Aria, no less! at a workshop in front of an audience of singers and composers.

It seems to me that even just thinking about this is resulting in my using more of my ‘amateur’ skills, making me more inclined to jump at opportunities where previously I might have hesitated. So now I feel it’s time to start consciously integrating some of these things into the work I’m doing. I’m starting with pieces that use field recordings, live electronics, vocal performance, and video. Who knows what else may end up being included…

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