Last night I watched a documentary television programme about Carly Simon’s 1972 classic album ‘No secrets.’ The aim of the documentary was to reveal some of the detail concerning how the album was made. I had first seen the programme several months ago but, for one reason or another, I had not been able to give it proper attention. Last night was different. It was different because I have recently been especially interested in the creative process – and of how works of art (real art) come into being. The programme helped to enhance my understanding: it focused on the way in which Carly Simon successfully wrote songs, the lyrics of which were based on the fine-grain of her lived experience; this made them unique; and, coupled with the depth of her musicality, the songs she recorded were (and are) both beautiful, intimate and distinct. I was also reminded of the fact that ‘No secrets‘ helped to strengthen the feminist movement that was gathering pace in the 1970s. In certain respects it is a feminist work of art.
The programme included a focus on the famous ‘You’re so vain’ and the psychologically challenging ‘Embrace me, you child’. The analysis was interspersed with selections from an interview given by Carly that was (I think) designed to supplement the details concerning the concept and contents of ‘No secrets’. She was always charming and she impressed me as eloquent, highly intelligent and sensitive. She was also unusually adept at describing and discussing her feelings about various life-events and especially her relationships with others. Her candour was remarkable. As I listened to her I was struck by the way she acknowledged how at least one song on ‘No secrets’ drew from her subconscious: she reflected on the fact that, as a young child she had (underneath it all) striven to receive the love of her father; sadly his love had not been forthcoming; in consequence her relationships with men were, she thought, disguised wish-fulfillments; in them she was expressing a repeated longing of the unfulfilled need to be loved by her father. But, like so many great artists she had found a way to transmute the depth of feeling – even the darkest moments – into works of art.
I thought a great deal about this. In fact, I took myself off to a darkened room in my house to consider more carefully what she had said and how it had influenced her creativity.
Then, after a while, something unexpected happened:
I began to clarify the nature of the portrayals project upon which, for the MA in Fine Art, I had been working. I realised that, subconsciously, I was, as it were, handing the torch of life on to a much younger person. Something I have been feeling had come to be manifested in the work. I realised that, in certain ways, I see myself in the person of the young Chinese artist Meng Zhang. Carly Simon described herself as a ‘paradoxical’ character – as are Meng and myself. (If the world were to be a rational place some of our characteristics simply should not sit side-by-side with each other! They are disharmonious, irregular, incompatible …) My screen-prints and their associated artefacts make plain the fact that I really am moving into the twilight of my life whilst Meng is beginning to shine brightly in hers. I am ‘making way’ for her; in contrast to me she is a new kind of international person. I am strangely relieved about the expression of this contrast and its resolution in my work.
It seems that my portrayals combine to tell one aspect of my life-story. ‘No secrets’ candidly (and often beautifully) expresses a powerful emotional narrative – and one that is set against a backdrop of great social change. It was (and is) a modern ‘classic’. In a certain sense, it deserves to be revered.