Needless to say, Henry lived alone.
In his spare time he had another life. He wrote stories. He wrote a particularly big myth-cycle tale called; The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. This was his magnum opus, totalling 15,145 pages, single-spaced, closely typed. He illustrated this with a huge number of watercolour paintings produced from painstakingly mimeographed, re-sized and traced advertising catalogues.
The tale was full of violence and torture and disembowellings. It had painfully detailed information about weather and battlefield tactics and some weird Christian imagery.
Henry went on to produce two more written works totalling another 15,000 pages or so.
|Henry loved his clouds. Nobody seems to know why the girls have penises.|
There was another fellow, Adolf Wolfli, born a few decades before in another country. He was troubled, and spent some time in an asylum. He liked to draw a lot. While in the asylum he was given a small ration of art materials;
"Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else. He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimetres long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night. At Christmas the house gives him a box of coloured pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most."
He also liked to write, producing a story which ran to 25,000 pages with 1600 illustrations. It was an idealised autobiography in which Wolfli becomes apotheosised.
|Obviously done just after Christmas|
These are very widely known stories, constituting the central myths of the notion of Outsider Art. Outsider Art is tangled up with some weird Rousseau-ian ideas of the purity of the uneducated ignorant and the insane - unpolluted as they are by the the indoctrinations of the decadent bourgeoisie. The high-modernist myth of the starving genius in his garret found new subjects in the Dargers and the Wolflis, who were so obviously consumed by their creativity.
I think there is something very interesting to be gleaned from the story as regards the nature of creativity. According to my rudimentary understanding of memetics and sexual selection and my unparalleled capacity for unfounded confabulations art is an entity, an evolved thing that obeys the laws of the evolutionary algorithm. Art seeks to occupy as much of your cerebral habitat as it can. It rewards you with its aesthetic stimulation of your sensory apparatus and with a sense of satifaction that you can create something, because you are the first to see it and appreciate it. In a sense it can be seen as a means of masturbating your own aesthetic sensibilities.
There is a sense - and it is not new, Darwin himself mentioned the notion in The Descent of Man - in which art exists as a means of displaying evolutionary fitness to potential mates. Your art displays your intelligence, boldness, persistence, empathy, dexterity, access to rare materials and many other things that are traits with potentially excellent survival-important qualities. We all recognise this, to an extent, and seek out aesthetic embellishment of our environment that it may assuage this hunger we have to feel something.
To Darger and Wolfli, art was not a means by which they wooed. Art gave them nothing. Darger never showed anyone anything and, if we are going to be honest, it was shit, it gave him no wealth, no influence, no mating rights, nothing. Yet he kept doing it. The thing he did was motivated by some kind of mechanism in him, something in him loved it, to the extent of obsession.
The thing itself, the art, the creation, the notion of creation, some alchemical distillation of the behemoth of culture in which he was embedded inhabited him like a man dons a garment and made itself happen. Art is alive in precisely the same sense that you are alive. It seems simple but it isn't. It has adapted incredibly quickly and effectively to you, the substrate in which it is embedded, and it compels you to bring it into being. Since whenever Jared Diamond's Great Leap Forward propelled us from being anatomically modern to behaviourally modern Homo sapiens Art has been iterating and proliferating and adapting itself to the sprawling and ever-changing set of habitats it compels us to create for itself. It is a parasite.
To those who have come to some kind of uneasy truce with the thing there is sense in which it is symbiotic but to most of us art is a parasite. It gives us nothing, it takes up our time and commands no worship, no fealty and no sexual favours. It just makes itself happen, blindly, relentlessly, like a machine.
This is what blogging is. Art is not just painting or supergluing lightbulbs to dead weasels or dancing or singing or poetry, art is aesthetic manipulation of reality. Blogging is a means by which we can reach across the chasm between us, to find some spark of empathy, to find something to pass the time. Perhaps it is something else. Perhaps it is a dead end of extraordinary proportions, a profoundly banal, time-consuming mediocrity that parasitises our minds and our fingers and compels us to strive to replicate the memes that seethe in our brains with the urgent desire to be replicated.