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Dalton on Dalton: A Mutual FAQ

Art, the Artist and Operations

William Dalton No. 1: So, what’s the deal with this whole art thing?
William Dalton No. 2: It’s just what I like to make. Some people play sports or cook great food. I just make stuff.

WD1: That seems understandable, but don’t you feel you come off as a little narcissistic?
WD2: Of course, I worry! But I think that’s the whole paradox of being an artist, or of making anything at all - you’re drawing too much attention to yourself. Or rather, you’re making people aware of you. You create partially for other people to see something you’ve made, but when they look at it they just see narcissism, they see introspection.

WD1: So what’s the solution? Make art for yourself?
WD2: That’s the ideal, yes. But I don’t think that’s really possible, I feel like there’s always a consideration of other people, in my work at least. For this reason I idolise outsider/folk/naïve/DIY/children’s art because it has this purity - it’s art that is just about creation. That’s something that fascinates me about art - that there are essentially two arts, or two definitions of art. There’s art as a cathartic act, like naïve art, and there’s art with all the culture and history of the art world, ‘fine art’. I’m a part of the latter but I’d love to be the former. To just make, regardless of style or history or culture or appreciation, and to make something only for yourself, that is the ideal.

from Self-Timer Self-Portraits, 2013
WD1: Then it’s not narcissism because you’re not ostensibly showing it to anyone?
WD2: Yes, in theory. But then is it art? Surely art needs an audience as well - an audience that isn’t its creator.

WD1: So then we return to the first question: is making art selfish (in general) or can it be made not-so-selfish?
WD2: I think it’s quite selfish in general but that’s a point you have to look past if you want to appreciate art, or make it. It’s an annoying fact but I think it’s best to put it away somewhere and not let it bother you. But I can’t do that, I’m just too aware of it. So I make it part of my art, and I analyse it, make fun of it.

WD1: OK, but isn’t that just an excuse, a way of dismissing anyone calling you narcissistic because it’s ‘on purpose’?
WD2: Yeah, perhaps it is. But perhaps it isn’t. And then I’ve created an ambiguity that all art has, but I just want people to notice it more. I want people to be confused, to hate me. I want them to not like my art, or to think my art’s bad.

WD1: But then is it actually good if everyone apart from you thinks it’s bad? Does the majority win?
WD2: The majority never wins. No one ever wins, in my opinion. There is no such thing as good art and bad art, not in any objective space. There’s no better art or worse art, there’s just similar and different. What we think of as bad and good is just subjective and intrinsically linked to taste, culture and upbringing.

WD1: If someone looked at your art and noticed what you were saying about bad art, they may think that you’re creating an inside joke for cultured fine artists, and that the majority of your possible audience would just think it’s bad and not ‘get it’.
WD2: That’s a good point, but that’s never my intention. I’m not trying to laugh at anyone other than myself, and I think that art should be inclusive. All the cool modern art now, and for decades, emerges from the underground and then dies when it hit the mainstream. But I love the mainstream; ideally I’d want my art to be appreciated by everyone. But that’s not possible, is it?

WD1: You can’t win over everyone. Plus, the nature and themes of your art are quite complex, and quite ‘meta’. People need to be aware of what you’re talking about and your cynicism to fully understand what you’re getting at.
WD2: I think this is what the audience can be misconstrue as being exclusive. But I can’t help what I’m interested in. However, it is a problem with my art, and one I try to fix with humour, which you don’t need to have a knowledge of or appreciation for art to enjoy.

WD1: Humour is certainly a great tool. But surely if humour is too prevalent in a work, then it is too easy to just laugh at the humour and move on?
WD2: And there’s another problem. I am often guilty of taking a serious idea, something complex that could be analysed in depth, but then hiding it behind humour, so unless the audience actively looks past the humour, there is nothing else to be found. I’m a bit of a backwards punk in that way.

WD1: In what way is that punk?
WD2: Well punk is all about being anti-establishment, or these days just anti-, but instead of being explicit and making my anti-ness the main focus, I hide it. The punk element is that I’m trying to say something but I’m not saying it conventionally. I don’t shout it, I mumble it under my breath. Both are annoying, I admit… if someone shouts their message you want them to say it rationally and not force it on you; if someone mumbles their message you want them to speak up, but know that they won’t. And yes, that’s exclusive, that’s rude.

WD1: But maybe that’s just part of this whole narcissistic artist construct?
WD2: Yes; that maybe I only need to mumble my message because maybe I’m the only one that needs to hear it. Everyone else can just laugh at me.

Gallery (Event), from That's Weird Isn't It!, 2014
WD1: That’s a very self-destructive way of working.
WD2: It is. I’m not sure whether that’s actually relevant for my art or it’s just a flaw in my personality that keeps finding its way into what I make. But I can’t hide any part of me; I still have this romantic notion of art as a very personal, cathartic thing, and should engage the artist completely.

WD1: So do I. But I feel there should be something else in it if you were to brand it as Art. There needs to be the introspection, the personal analysis, the humility, sure. But there needs to be something else to aid the audience.
WD2: Humour, maybe?

WD1: More than humour. Humour only gets you so far; you acknowledged that. It’s an easy way out. A great tool, sure, but it needs to talk about something.
WD2: Yes. That’s what I’ll be working on in my art for maybe my whole life. There needs to be three participants in the conversation of making an artwork, as Philip Guston said: the artist, the artwork and some third etherial thing: the theme, or the statement. That’s what really separates outsider art from ‘fine art’ and ‘the academy’, it often doesn’t have that third participant; it is just artist vs. canvas, so to speak.

WD1: But then what about the audience? Does the audience matter if an artwork is so balanced and includes all three of those things?
WD2: No, the audience doesn’t matter in this theory. If an artwork is good, it is good, but only in the mind of the artist. The artist seeks approval and appreciation (and constructive criticism) from the audience; or rather the artist simply seeks an audience, any audience, because people don’t usually care about others’ art. How do you convince people to notice you? That’s why punks shout.

WD1: That’s a dead end. Make for yourself, and hope you’re good enough that others will eventually appreciate it.
WD2: That’s all I can do as an artist. And make as much as possible, maybe that increases the chances of appreciation. Well, not even appreciation, just exposure. Being noticed.

WD1: Let’s go back a bit. So, you riff on the concept of the narcissistic artist. But where is the line between you as an artist, satirising, and the real you?
WD2: I’d really like to know that, but I don’t. There’s ambiguity there even for me. I believe my art is my life and my life is my art. So am I playing a role or am I really that role? I don’t know which I’d prefer. If I was playing a role of the artist then there’d be insincerity and tension between who I was pretending to be and who I really was: pretence. But if I was actually who I played the role of being then all those bad things about being an artist would actually apply to me: I am narcissistic, self-obsessed, self-destructive, navel-gazing. But can I help that?

WD1: No, I guess you just have to do whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy. Really, this isn’t about art, it’s about you making peace with yourself. But, as you said, you are your art and your art is you - so naturally your work got sucked into this anxiety and became the focus of it. The situation with you and your art is has got so complex and tangled that there really isn’t any way to separate it.
WD2: I don’t think it ever was separate. For some reason I grew up with that romantic notion of the artist, living for and in his work, giving him his purpose but also making him suicidal at every turn. I can’t even think of an example of an artist that extreme; it’s a cliché. And so I am that cliché.

WD1: It’s like you were saying earlier: some people have sport, but you have art. But you value it higher than anything else because it’s ‘your thing’. It’s your release but also your crutch.
WD2: It’s definitely my crutch. It, like humour, is an easy way out for me. I’ve created a construct in my life that, as you said, values art higher than anything. It’s at the centre of my little system and everything orbits around it and is fed by it. That’s not a healthy way to be, that’s not a rounded lifestyle right there.

WD1: But now you’re contradicting yourself. Saying it’s not ‘healthy’ is saying other people have better lives than you, which is naïve. You said before that there was no better or worse.
WD2: That’s true. But then there’s a good example of the dichotomy between personal and academic, between what I practice and what I preach. I’m very interested in that gap, because everyone has it.

from the Self-Portrait Triptych, 2014
WD1: Everyone’s a hypocrite.
WD2: Yes. It’s just the way things are, it’s like a subtler version of the tension between the physical and the psychological. It’s the psychological and the subconscious, ‘I’ and ‘Me’.

WD1: What exactly do you mean by that?
WD2: Well there’s two parts to the way you think, kinda. There’s ‘I’, which is the bit you think with, the bit you feel you are, and there’s ‘Me’, which is the slightly more objective part. I guess ‘I’ is the subjective-subjective and ‘Me’ is the objective-subjective. The ‘I’ is always perfect and pure and right, it is the ‘Me’ that has the flaws. Perhaps it’s only separate from the ‘I’ because it has flaws, so we purposefully distance ourselves from it. That way it is not the sacred ‘I’ that is in the wrong, but the pesky ‘Me’. But I think my problem is I pay too much attention to the ‘Me’, or maybe too much attention to this whole issue!

WD1: So then which part makes art?
WD2: Well art is imperfect, so the ‘Me’ is responsible for its execution. Of course the idea of the art is the product of the ‘I’ because it’s this elusive perfection, but there’s no point in an idea if nothing is done with it.

WD1: That’s a big issue in your work. Is an idea enough or does there need to be some execution of it? What about Description Art, which often will just describe a painting, asserting that description is enough?
WD2: I’d really like that to be true but I can’t agree with it. There’s so much more opportunity for expression in actually making something (or realising it)… but that depends what your intention is with your art. The artist who will write a description for a painting in that way is relinquishing control over his art, as a writer does when they use metaphor, letting the reader imagine the images in their head. So I guess in that way you’re allowing your audience to make your art for you. But I’m a control freak; an auteur. I want complete control.

WD1: That’s certainly true. But when you have complete control there’s no space for the audience… it can seem as if you construct something you think is brilliant, controlling everything, and then make it funny just so the audience can interact with it on some top level, and pass it off as art.
WD2: I’m not sure about that. It’s a fair allegation, but there isn’t really much I can say to negate it. That’s just an opinion, and if people want to have that opinion, I have to accept. Once again; similar and different. But it would sure be nice to have everyone like my work.

WD1: Maybe that’s what the humour is for? It’s a way of trying to make your work appeal to everyone?
WD2: Yes, or as many people as possible. Because even if you hate art and think I’m a navel-gazing prick who has too much time to think, I’d like to think you’d laugh at some of the things I’ve made.

WD1: But let’s not forget how close humour is to self-immolation.
WD2: Of course, but then we’re back to my insecurities. Being funny is cathartic because you know that your audience is laughing at you, and then there’s a realness and a humility that you don’t usually experience. Or at least I don’t, especially as an artist.

WD1: But is art really the outlet for this humility? Surely if you found another way for it to be cathartic you would free up your art to be about other, perhaps less angsty things?
WD2: That would be nice! But, as we’ve said, my life and my art are inseparable. So whatever I’m worried about, my work becomes worried about. I’m sure I’ll move past this preoccupation, and thus my work will too, but at the moment it is just not possible for me to pull the two apart.

Operations II, 2014
WD1: But how far do you take this idea of ‘life as art’? Is what you do on an everyday basis art?
WD2: In some way, yes. But not in the obvious way. I guess there’s this Allan Kaprow idea that you can turn your life into art - that there has to be an act of noticing, perhaps documenting; a translation. For example, logging your activities or doing something on purpose in your everyday life for the final purpose of it being art (like Sophie Calle). That’s a little too explicit for me! I guess I’m more with Joseph Beauys; the idea of a ‘life-work’ and everyday people making their ‘life-work’ simply by living. For example; a nurse’s art is her career and her artworks are (to hypothesise) all the people she’s cared for. I’m all for the breaking down of the word ‘artist’. It’s like when people ask me if I consider myself an art student or an artist. I’m an artist, and so’s everyone else - if they want to be!

WD1: But then things get complex again. If everyone has a life-work, regardless of whether they are an artist, then what is your life-work? Surely it’s art.
WD2: Yes, unlike the nurse whose career is her life-work, my art is my life-work. Which confuses Beauy’s theory a bit, because just as the nurse creates her art by simply living (not by documenting what she does!), so do I. But my art is actually art - tangible, physical, fine art. Intended, noticed, purposeful, aware.

WD1: I think this brings us nicely on to your Operations series. It’s a collection of boards showing a little pink man doing everyday things. Is this depicting your life-work?
WD2: Kind of, I think. Once again I don’t think it’s as explicit as me labelling eating cereal as art (for instance). That’s not what I think Beauys means, I think his definition was much more subtle, much less defined. For me Operations is much more about lifestyle than it is about the relationship between life and art.

WD1: But of course, it could be interpreted to be about you and your actions, and then it’s a big metaphor for how you put yourself in your art: plainly, defiantly, and quite rudely.
WD2: Yes, there’s definitely something meta about it. Operations doesn’t give two shits about anything, it is gratuitous and unnecessary creation, not so much intellectually documenting the mundane as, ham-fisted, scrawling it onto the nearest surface. I like that; I feel like it breaks down this relationship between the artist and his art, and the process of translating something that has happened to the artist into something that other people would like to see - metaphors, for instance. Why do artists codify their lives in this way? I’m removing that artistry and leaving the process itself.

WD1: So once again it’s a dialogue with yourself and without the audience?
WD2: Well, not so much that, but it’s art that doesn’t consider the audience as other art does. It removes that pretence. The fleshy pink man isn’t smiling at you, telling you what he’s up to. He’s smiling at himself.

Operations III, 2014
WD1: You could look at Operations and say that it’s like a series of instructions, or rituals.
WD2: I’d say that the boards were more instructions than they were documents or records, but they’re instructions from himself to himself. Displayed together, as they will be when I make enough of them, they seem less like rituals and more like thoughts. It’s this idea; do you think of doing something, or tell yourself to do something, or do you just do and think of it simultaneously?

WD1: ‘I’ and ‘Me’.
WD2: Yes, it brings us back to that, psychological tension.

WD1: One thing about Operations we should discuss is the style. It’s very crude, child-like, and perhaps quite insulting to the viewer. It seems wrong that you even dared to touch paint for the creation of something so absurd.
WD2: Yeah, and that’s where my backwards punk mentality comes into it - which here is more of an aesthetic. I think that’s relevant to the idea of ‘pure art’. My motto recently has been ‘take what you can reach’ because then your statement and your thoughts (and your place in your work) aren’t muddied by considerations of technique, craft and skill. Those are external factors, used to judge, and I like art that is just ‘mano e mano’, direct.

WD1: Like this conversation between you and me, which is self-analysis under the pretence of being an academic discussion.
WD2: Well, it is an academic discussion at the same time! There’s ambiguity in whether it’s a pretence or honest.

WD1: So really, your work is about making work, it is about the idea of the artist and the idea of making work.
WD2: Yes. I wouldn’t like that to be what my work is about forever, but yes that’s what it’s about at the moment. It’s all very meta, and I love that. It’s like my blue paintbrush: I am making art about art, so essentially the art makes itself and analyses itself, but I am still incredibly important in that dialogue. When you see the blue paintbrush you think, ‘What was it painted with? It must have been painted with another paintbrush!’, and so you’re thinking about the art, but ultimately it’s about me. Because the paintbrush wouldn’t paint of its own accord - it is an act, a performance, a process, that I have carried out. It is not that one paintbrush painted another, it is that I turned one paintbrush on another. Art about art about me.

Blue Paintbrush, 2014
WD1: Art about you making art about art?
WD2: Art about me as an artist making art about art.

WD1: No wonder you’re so confused.
WD2: No wonder I’m so angsty!

WD1: Where do you see this all going?
WD2: Well, it’s either gonna get really, really good, or I’m going to lose track of it and fall apart. This is why audience is so important to me...

WD1: Wait, but I thought you shun, mock and ignore the audience in everything you do?
WD2: Yes, but surely that means I’m obsessed with the audience! Anyone who tries so hard to ignore something is in fact giving it all their attention. Audience is very important. And anyway, if I’m in this complex discussion of the construct of art and the artist, interaction with the audience (even through humour or artistic insult) is integral.

WD1: But in terms of progression, your art is very introspective. It seems that instead of spiralling out (as you said, losing track and falling apart), it instead will spiral in…
WD2: Yes, and in and in and in until it is impenetrable and ridiculous. There comes a point when you’re drawing a spiral inwards where there’s no separation between the waves any more, it’s just one small black point, where the lines overlap. You know you’re still spiralling infinitely inwards, but looking back at it, it’s a finite point.

WD1: So what happens when you get that far, get to that point?
WD2: Well the problem is, I’ll think I’m still spiralling! I don’t have the self-awareness (and I don’t think anyone does) to notice that I’m in that black point in the middle. It would be terrible to notice that, anyway, because then you feel like you’re not moving any more, and then you might as well die or give up!

WD1: I’d rather die than give up.
WD2: So would I.

WD1: So nice to finally agree on something!
WD2: I feel like we’ve reached the point in the middle of our spiral of conversation.

WD1: Time to go!
WD2: Time to go.

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