The presentation of identity: an archive

One of the recurring themes in contemporary advanced Fine Art concerns the issue of identity. Part of this is probably related to the fact that any student of Fine Art finds him or herself asked questions that inevitably relate (ultimately) to his or her ‘self’; the questions oblige the artist either to give an account of that which underlies his or her work – or to make explicit his or her values and preferences. On top of this, it may well be that a cultural ethos pervades ‘modern life’ – an ethos of individualism and self-centredness. It would be unrealistic to imagine that a developing artist can somehow be immune to this ethos. In one way or another, I too, faced questions related to the person I had become. Whilst far younger artists grapple with the problems of ‘image’ I, by contrast, have lived a life and can take stock of the different themes that permeate and define my identity. In fact, doing the MA process and in may ways, I had begun long meditation on death. I may not live for that much longer.

At the beginning of March 2021, as my final MA Fine Art project was launched, I began preparing an archive of my writings, drawings, photographs and paintings – as well as one or two mixed media pieces. I was obliged to prepare the archive in the computer application, ‘InDesign’. This is a remarkable resource and those trained in either illustration or graphic design are well placed to make excellent use of the ‘InDesign’ programme. Their achievements are often breathtaking. By contrast I was (and still am) a relative novice to ‘InDesign’ and so I knew that my work could never achieve the fabulous presentational values of the skilled user. However, I devoted one month to each of five volumes with the goal of expressing a form of self-portrait. In March, volume 1 focused on ‘poems and stories’; in April I sought to locate myself in an anthropological context; in May I tried to outline the extent to which I was a distinct individual, whilst in June I faithfully reproduced many aspects of my own sensibility; and, finally, in July, volume 5 was devoted to the ‘dark’ side of my being.

Taken together, the ensemble really does go someway to outlining the themes which make me who I am. (They ‘describe’ and profile an ‘identity’.) Of course, I don’t expect anyone to read the various pieces of writing: (I am tempted to say, ‘Why should they?’); and even when, for example, I showed one of the volumes to a family member, she just quickly leafed through the pages and commented briefly on a few of the pictures. In effect a month’s worth of work was ‘consumed’ by her in less than three minutes!

But it was a fascinating experience to try and produce an accurate summary of both the ways I ‘see’ the world and how it infuses and has created my identity. It is relatively obvious that if someone were to look at the text and images they would see that my being is historicised and can only be understood through the kind of anthropological framework that Martin Heidegger or Pierre Bourdieu provides.

One curious result of preparing the archive became apparent in Volume 4 – the volume in which I explored my sensibility; it turned out that I had unwittingly taken on a slightly inauthentic way of experiencing art: Most of it – and even the recognised great works – were not by any means entities that I really liked: I had, in fact, persuaded myself that I did ‘like’ them (and I would make an effort to ‘read’ into them all sorts of meanings) but now I have come to realise that ‘art’ has become conventionalised and I had simply been seduced by the norms of the connoisseur and the whole network of people who have the authority to define what counts as ‘art’. That was a genuine revelation and I feel much better now that I know my own truth. The particular moment when I had this illumination was afforded by the pleasure I experienced in seeing the beauty of a painting by Alfred Sisley in the Musee des Beaux Arts in Dijon. It sparkled and (after Heidegger) even suggested ‘the power of insignificant things’. What a great relief it was to see a part of the world that was fit to house or avail itself of the human spirit!

The photograph shows the covers of 4 or the 5 volumes.

1 thought on “The presentation of identity: an archive”

  1. Thank you, Rob Compare Goffman The presentation of self in everyday life I am still reading about Henry V111 A man wholly suited to the modern age! Best wishes, as always Peter


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