16 Feburary 1998

Jerusalem (1994) Timothy Comeau

I. Doodles

You could say it began with “Jerusalem”, the drawing I did in 1994 and exhibited at Saint Mary's. I could say that I was subconsciously aware of the stick figure as being a legitimate art technique, but being subconscious, it was bellow the surface. I was interested in learning to draw like Picasso - I didn't pursue stick figures then.

I purchased Radiohead's The Bends in October of that year. It had been released the previous spring. It contained stick figure scrawls of Stanley Donwood and Thom York. I looked with interest at first, but saw only "doodles" and left it. I did not then see it as art.


In December 1996 I was channel surfing and stopped briefly at The New Music, when they were interviewing k.d. lang. She picked up Basquiat Drawings (1990) and said how much she liked a particular drawing, “Plaid Plaid Plaid” and commented that this explained lyrics to her. A few weeks later Dad surprised me by bringing this book home, which he found for $3.99.

“Untitled (Plaid)” Jean-Micheal Basquiat (1982), New York Whitney Museum of American Art

This book inspired me as set me trying to incorporate text and imagery. That was in January 1997. In June 1997, Radiohead released Ok Computer. Again there was the drawings of Stanley Donwood. I admired the design but again, thought little of it.

Then that September, I was walking through the halls of NSCAD when some signage drawn up by Tullis Rose caught my eye. My immediate thought was of OK Computer. Here were the sketches! Here was the same concept. This made me think that there was something more to these mere doodles. Later, the same month, Randy Laybourne exhibited a collection of his drawings. Some were done spontaneously and shared that doodle quality.

In early November, this all coalesced and I collected Tullis’ ads where I could still find them. I copied out the drawings from the Radiohead CD booklets. Jessica Jones, a fellow student in Interim Painting, left some sketches laying around, on black paper done with chalk. The stick figures - I asked her for it but she wouldn't part with them.

I set out to understand the doodle. I began drawing doodles. And my tag in October which began as simple graffiti, but struck me for being so self-contained.

“Drawn at Age 5” (1997) Timothy Comeau
(Five year old draw like that - every man is an artist -who drew this at age 5? Because I was drawing it at age 22).

Melinda gave us an assignment, to paint outdoors. She gave us a list of artists we might want to refer too. Basqiuat came up. I asked why he was on the list. She said because he was a good urban artist, how he had responded to his city.

I bought two drawings from Randy. I doodled like crazy, trying to understand, and to find that which I liked in other's in my own.

“Untitled” (1997) Randy Laybourne

Now, I see connections between Basquiat and Donwood, the other night finally recognizing the symbol from Henry Dreyfuss’ Symbol Sourcebook. Basquiat used some symbols from this book and so did Donwod.

The appeal of the doodle is represented in the primacy nature of it - it&rdsquo;s simplicity, spontaneity, and what the Beats codified as "first thought best thought" . My own experience has shown me that first thought best thought creates art that is inspired and caries that mark. There is no fear of the contrived. However, not all first thoughts are golden, and first thoughts often reside amongst the cultural clichés. First thought with awareness then. And of course, the fact that anybody can do it.

II. Everyone an artist

Apparently it was Joseph Beuys who came up with that phrasing. But the idea isn't that new or original. In 1966's Creative Writer, a series of talks given on CBC's radio program Ideas, the Canadian poet Earl Birney said,

Some psychologists say, and I agree with them, that creativity is the sense of the drive to find new things, explore, discover, is basic to the human animal. I think all children who aren’t born into absolute idiocy are artistically creative. With a favorable kind of environment and education, most of them, I suspect, grow up retaining some creative powers as men and women. But there’s a strong urge to conform, to become dependent on others, to accept instruction, guidance, doctrine, to stop really thinking, or even feeling, for one’s self. Artists are people who resist this conforming pressure, at least with part of their energies.
This is what Joseph Beuys refereed to - this basic factor is creativity, that we all create constantly. Beuys put it this way:

Thinking Forms - how we mould our thoughts or Spoken Forms - how we shape our thoughts into words or Social Sculpture - how we live: Sculpture as an evolutionary process; everyone an Artist.
Thorsten Scheer, on the website expands on this:
Beuys’ plastic theory is not about plastic/sculpture in the traditional sense. It's about form. In Beuys' opinion, the central question of art is the question for the most suitable form. This means that _everything_ is a question of art, because _everything_ has to have a certain form: politics, communication, TV sets, words, e-mails... All you can imagine. But the question for the most suitable form does usually not occur until one has to work with real material. However, at first, there is a thought, an idea. The process to create a sculpture therefore emerges right the moment you get an idea. Ideas have to be shaped, constructed, put into form, just like material works. […] Living on this planet, in a society, _everything_ you do, every idea you have, all the stuff you create, every conversation you have (sending mail to Athena, too) shifts the state of the environment, creates form - therefore is sculpture..! You are responsible - no way out. So take your life as a work of art with regard to society - the Social Sculpture.

This idea, that we are constantly responsible for everything we do, and that all acts are creative and thus artistic acts, is the beginning of my thoughts on art as an almost religious experience, capable of providing unity to life.

Everyone an artist though - I do not want to see every citizen of the world have a one man show. I believe that every human is a creative creature, as Earle Birney wrote. However, we are not all artists. Some of us are businessmen. Some of us are tradesmen. We are all born with different talents and interests. Artists are born. If you feel yourself to be athlete, then you are. This basic fact that we are all born different assures us that artists will have a place and that their gifts have a place. However, the nature of art changes and the nature of the artist changes. The nature of art must change and is changing.

In this new world I do not know what place the gallery has. This gallery is a graveyard of ideas, a museum of trends, a sanctuary for ivory tower pansies.

III. Art Itself

Art itself - what is art? Art is the product of the artist. It is the by-product of the creative act. The creative act is an exploration, an attempt to understand. The creative act in the artist arises out of the need to understand something. Some idea ignites curiosity, desire, obsession. You want to wrap your brain around something. To do this, you reach out, explore a medium. Thought goes from ephemeral interior winds to physical manipulations of materials. The art object thus becomes a record of physic energies - a record and report by the artist. It is a hard copy of thought not in the usual word form, but in the form of shapes.

So this is what art is. Art is also that which enriches your experience, it is life affirming, it is beautiful. Much historical thought has gone into trying to define two things - God and Art. What is hard to define in both perhaps is the concept of beauty. It is beauty which is so subjective and which confuses the idea of what art is. Art as the totality of experience. The role of the artist is to affirm life. To show people what they are capable of.

Document History
  1. Feb 1998: written in my notebook to sketch & note down some thoughts
  2. May 2001: Digitized for my Collected Writings artist-book
  3. 2001-2008: archived on my websites
  4. 2008-2015: archived on my blog
  5. Aug 2015: this version produced with copy-edits