Incidental Odds & Bits

What do you do with the by-products? A frend of mine wrote a thesis based on her interviews with sculptors who emerged in the ‘fifties, when she originally started an interrupted career. Because she was now back as a mature student, I read her thesis in the role of supervisor, though sadly I don’t have a copy. In it she tells of a sculptor who made large heavy works and lived in the country. But then there were problems, the family split up, and he moved to the city. What to do with the works? He hired a JCB and buried them in a large hole in the ground. Whether they were ever retrieved I don’t know: I don’t think the thesis told us.

All of us makars (a Scots word, mainly used of poets, which I’ve purloined to mean anyone who makes things which are not utilitarian, for their own sake: less pretentious than the word ‘creatives’), produce incidental matter, sometimes in profusion. What on earth to do with it?

One solution is to destroy it, or to arrange for it to be destroyed on one’s death, as Vergil did with The Aeneid, or Kafka did with The Trial etc., though the literary executors, Rufus and Tucca in the first case, (forbidden to burn the manuscripts by the Emperor Augustus), Max Brod in the second, failed to carry out their authors’ wishes.

Some makars produce while ignoring the possibility that no-one may see their work. In Stalinist Russia, alongside samisdat, which meant publication by many individuals using the simplest means of reproduction, there was also production for the bottom drawer. There is a memorable moment in a TV documentary when the British composer Kaikhosru Sorabji waves his arms at copious cupboards and says something like “All stuffed with music. All.- Will never be played. Never.”

In my case I have loads of byproduct. Partly because I find it difficult to throw anything away, especially if it took quite a lot of effort to produce. Even if it is crap. Partly also because, as my peers attended proper Art School and did their time in the Life Room, I felt obliged to do a lot of Life Drawing afterwards to catch up. However that may be, I have drawings, of whatever sort, probably in thousands taking up the cupboards and plan-chests Sorabji-style. Sure, most life-drawings are five-finger exercises, but some have value. As for scribbles about ideas – most of us would prefer to preserve Leonardo’s notebooks if it was a choice between them and his mostly insipid paintings. Who knows what is worth which?

Which brings us to the question of value, which I have to say, is not the issue. Some of the sketches/trials are far better than the works they were preparing for. We all know the case of Constable. It’s not in the the makar’s gift definitively to sift the good from the bad. It would be nice to know the difference at the time, but mostly we don’t. We try to wise up to what we can bring off and what we can’t, but we don’t do that either.

No, the problem remains: what are we going to do with all this stuff in the mean-time? And how much effort are we going to leave to someone else to sort out? I have thought of giving everyone a drawing (perhaps rubber-stamped “This Is a Christmas Card” on the verso), instead of the usual offering –but the Post Office have made that a costly solution. Or maybe ”Five free drawings with every painting bought?” “Three egg-cups with every ceramic vase?” “A free bagatelle for every symphony commissioned?”

My friend of the thesis tried a possible solution to a related problem: “ I tore up all of X’s horrible letters” she wrote to me, “and made them into a papier-mache statue. I thought I’d got rid of him, but instead I’ve made him immortal.”