As well as regretting not being born Cy Twombly, I also regret not being born David Shrigley, because he has managed to make conceptual art funny and politically pointed. I love him, as has been well documented in the past. I also have often wished I had the kind of courage to present that sort of work against the inevitable backlash of ‘it’s not really art’.
I panicked yesterday that my PhD work is just too conceptual for an academic setting, where it’s important to be explicit in everything. The first paper, it actually has a lot of background literature, pulling together ideas and theories from many different sources, taking my blog and diary and integrating my memory of the experiences of the past year into all those ideas, and adding in new aspects and a few new theoretical ideas (the body as palimpsest is a major one that will be extended further over the next few articles). I took great care to present it in a way that is conceptually important to how the project will develop over the next couple of articles, a project where all the disparate ideas can work individually but when put together will be more than the sum of their parts, as well as being well-crafted pieces of writing and artwork on their own merits too.
That was hard, and I’m damned proud of it. And the intellectual effort that went into doing all of this has been missed, I think, (though I have been grateful and appreciative that the craftmanship has mostly not). I have been smiling and nodding when people say it is ‘light’ academically, or it’s good for me to have to do more on the background etc., and I want to stop doing that, because the self-deprecation and implied agreement is dishonest: it’s just a habit I developed as a kid, and I’ve never learned how to argue my point back appropriately. (On those days, I wish I was my eldest sister, because she’s awesome at it.) I think I’ve been very deeply academic, and I know I haven’t been wasting time, have not neglected my background understanding of the literature, and I absolutely don’t need a kick up the ass. All I have missed is an explanation of the conceptual nature of the work in a way that resonates with its academic audience as suitably researchy/comprehensible enough. I thought it was there, and I was mistaken, and I’ll cop to that bit. I’ll cop to being late on deadlines and all around generally less than communicative enough, and I’ll cop to the doubt and frustration both of those engender. It’s been hard to do the work itself on top of the pain etc., and having to explain myself just made me feel too damned tired. It’s not excuse enough for it, by any means, but in retrospect it is what has happened.
I won’t apologise for the difficult to understand nature of my work anymore though. It is ambitious and, while many of the individual aspects of the work have precedents, the combination is unlike anything that has been done before. Nothing I have come across anyway. Talking to Veronica helped me a lot with deciding not to rework what I have done already into a more standardly academic format (thank you) and today I am sorry I ever doubted myself, and I’m very sorry I haven’t stood up for my work better. It has the potential to be methodologically innovative, theoretically useful, and creatively engaging, and I would rather fail the PhD entirely than reduce my ambition into something lesser.
I feel better now. Onward.