Intersting article from The Times (UK), but art is after all completely subjective and personal opinion can be nothing more than that. SWIS did find himself agreeing with the author of the article on at least one point, namely that the taking of drugs will not by itself produce talent. Anyway, here it is:
In art, the drugs really don't work
It was the exhibition title Drugs that had caught my attention. I’d just started my annual three-month abstention from booze, so altered states, or lack of them, were on my mind. Drugs is the fourth in a series of themed shows by Artists Anonymous, a five-strong collective formed in Nuremberg. The show is to be held in their gallery in a slightly seedy backstreet in Bethnal Green notorious for dealers — of art, that is.
The previous exhibitions have been called War, Hunger and Overpopulation and Pollution. Looking at images from those shows, I thought they could all justifiably be brought in under the Drugs banner. The busy layered paintings, a mishmash of pattern and photorealism in every colour under the sun, look like computer-age psychedelia. I felt that if I stared at them for long enough, a satisfying image would come out of them, like one of those magic-eye paintings.
NI_MPU('middle');I talked to two of their less anonymous members, Ed and Maya. They said that they were all “clean addicts”. Ed gave me a long, rambling explanation of the content and process of the paintings. He used the phrase “without being too philosophical” twice. He explained in a waterfall of words how as a team they built models and then dressed up and staged scenarios, which they photographed then painted in negative, then took a photo of the painting with a pinhole camera and displayed a photographic negative next to the painting.
If Ed were a drug he would be speed. His nervous energy, combined with the frenetic Technicolor of the paintings, left my head reeling.
I’m not a fan of psychedelic art. Maybe this is due to my own experience with hallucinogens. Sometime in the 1980s I heard Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, being interviewed on the radio. He was asked if he still took LSD. “Taking acid is like visiting Cleveland,” he replied. “After ten trips you don’t need to go there again.”
The quote stuck with me because that had been exactly my experience. Having dropped a tab, I had enjoyed watching garishly coloured landscapes writhe in time with the music from my Walkman. I screamed with laughter at a friend’s perceptive observations, which turned out to be them saying nothing more than “wow, look at that”. I also became so paranoid that I was sure a four-year-old child in a restaurant was mocking me for being a druggy by miming smoking a joint.
For days after a trip the wallpaper undulated if I stared at it too long.
After ten or so very memorable hallucinogenic episodes, hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, the novelty wore off.
All drugs have a character, and sustained long-term use of them can cause the user to absorb it into their personality, where it can reside long after the chemical effects of the drug have worn off. In my youth I spent time around people who took a lot of drugs; thankfully I had too little money or too much sense to keep up with them. Some of them died, some just became terminally boring. I still occasionally sense the masks of overindulgence clinging to people’s faces: the conniving weasel of the junkie, the brash overconfidence of the cokehead or the droopy-eyed snicker of the long-term dope smoker.
What most frightened me about taking LSD were the possible side-effects of the drug on my imagination. Acid hallucinations with their seemingly significant connections, wild colours and paranoia can be particularly corrosive to the artistic imagination. I worried that the drug would affect my judgment. I feared that I was starting to confuse experiences drilled into my consciousness through drug-dilated pupils with images and ideas that were genuinely fascinating and beautiful.
I found myself entering what I called my Bilbo Baggins period. I feared I would end up making heavy-metal album cover art or go all New Age and vaguely spiritual.
Many artists when quizzed about their habit will trot out a rationalisation for why they need their fix. “Oh, I can’t go on stage sober”, or “I needed a cigarette to help me think”.
Artistic folk can become attached to the crutch of a drug because they think it is part of what makes them creative.
Studies in the Sixties and Seventies by the cross-cultural theorists Jean Houston and Robert Masters found that psychedelic drugs were indeed disinhibiters and helped artists to say and do things that they were repressing in some way. They may also increase fluency and our capacity for lateral thinking.
The downside is that any drug also brings with the high its own brand of cliché and chaos. Drugs lend an aesthetic that may dominate the work of an artist working under their influence. The conspiracy-theorist rants and convoluted Gothic imaginings of the druggy artist may seem terribly powerful to citizens of Planet Bong but to sober viewers they can seem just, well, druggy.
The second room of the Artists Anonymous show was painted black and featured a painting with a working electric guitar rammed into it giving off feedback through an amp. It reminded me of a bedroom I slept in when I was 15. It had belonged to my father’s stepson, who grew pot on the railway embankment. The walls were covered in silver foil and carpet and dotted with Hendrix posters and wig heads stuck with peacock feathers.
On the whole I find drugs of any kind do not have a good effect on a person’s creativity. Crucially, any amount of drugs will not make an untalented artist any more interesting. Something that rapidly becomes apparent when you give up alcohol is how boring drunk people can be. Druggy art can be the visual equivalent of being cornered by a bar-room philosopher. Drugs is at 32a Vyner Street, London E2, from Friday until Feb 12, Thurs to Sat, midday-6pm, www.artists-anonymous.net
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