Art Healership Lessons

A lesson on the importance of being ordinary

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, photographed by Alfred Steiglitz, backdrop is The Warriors, by Marsden Hartley

When beholding a toilet enshrined upon a plinth, it might seem unrealistic to think that its role as a very ordinary object could inspire quiet confidence; but, it should.

Duchamp teaches us with this urinal, that it is not what an object is, nor is it what an object looks like, which gives it importance. It is where you dare to put it.

If we apply that to ourselves, we can learn that  it is not what or who you are, nor your appearance that will ultimately determine how people see you, but the unreserved way in which you carry these things, that will help the world sit up and pay attention. If you remain thinking, ‘I’m just ordinary, performing a daily routine, unglamorous, but functioning’, then that is all you will allow yourself to become.

Proudly, the piss-pot perches, unashamed of its bog-standard appearance, bold enough to call itself a ‘fountain’ – to call itself important. And it is this confidence that we can emulate; should you not feel your best-self one day, there is a lot to be said here for the old adage: fake it till you make it.

Here is a reminder: this upside-down thing that people wee in changed art forever (and was set to sell for £1.7 million back in 2002); it has us all eternally fooled with its brazen appearances in gallery after gallery.

It is not just because it is a urinal that this work is famous; it is because it is a urinal in an art gallery. So, even if you view yourself as a toilet, turn up to that job interview, that party, that date with trust in who you are and the value you hold, and the people who behold you will likely recognise your value – because you’re you.

This work reminds us that all confidence is – is a performance. It is through this performance that people will see your most valuable assets because you have walked in as if they have belonged there this entire time. The emphasis of your worries, therefore, should not rest on what you are (which is, by default uniquely you and more than enough). You should concern yourself instead with who you will boldly present yourself to be. It is this that will affect how people perceive you, and how they perceive your ‘ordinariness’, because you know that it too deserves to be enshrined upon a plinth in a nice space.

Art Healership Lessons

A lesson on the narrative we tell ourselves

Tess Jaray, How Strange, 2001, oil on linen, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Imagine each dot is a moment in your life. Place the first few moments that come to mind on the top line, those that are within closest reach.

What moments come to mind? What are they showing you about your world? If these were the only moments you could show a stranger, what kind of assumptions might they make about your life?

As you begin to move from dot to dot, for as long as is comfortable, you might note which moments feel far away and distant. Which memories would you place in the specs at the bottom.

How strange that, in recalling the moments that preoccupy us the most, we do not always give space to the ones in which we are most content.

The dots are all the same size; we just arrange them as if they aren’t. We choose to give importance to what feels familiar, and therefore what is ‘closer’ to how we view our life to be. Often, this is in place of moments that bring us peace; they might not fit the narrative to which we are most accustomed to living. How strange it is that the mind is wired in this way.

Jaray’s work invites us to observe how we choose to find order in chaos, how we make an illusion of meaning and sense out of life. The painting shows that, where ‘order’ means that with which we are familiar – it can also mean contentedness, depending on our perspective.

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Art Healership Lessons

A lesson on letting go

Ai Wei Wei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, triptych of black and white prints

It is time to break what we know. Everything that was held dear could be, at best a social construct, and at worst, unconsciously destroying our lives.

Ai Wei Wei eloquently shows us the power of destroying what we value, be it a 2000 year-old urn or a preconceived idea. He forces us to confront everything that is; he demands we ask, ‘why?’, imploring that we demand, ‘but what is it all for?’, and ending with a revolutionary, ‘what if we forgot all we knew to be important and created something new?’

As we look upon history dropping, falling, and shattering, a way of thinking and being, lies in pieces on the floor, we must ask ourselves what exactly we’ve been holding on to for so long and why we’ve been holding on so tightly. Past traditions are no less valuable, even when they have been dropped. But, perhaps they need to be broken so we can pick up the remains and use them create something better tomorrow.

We are led to forget that society is entirely man-made, from our traditions to our ornamental décor. Ai Wei Wei bluntly points out that our ways are not indestructible, they are fragile and can, and should frequently (especially when causing damage and destruction), be shattered. With this reminder, an answer crystallises for anxious questions:  how can we move on from the past? how can we improve? how can we move on from what we know?

Let go.

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