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Small relief

Once upon a time there was an artist called Lucia. At least, that is what it said on the card:

lucia pintoretta

conceptual art
on the margins between 2D and 3D
oil / mixed media / miniature screen prints

@smallrelief

But deep in her heart, Lucia knew she was really a house painter. A wall-coverer. A primer. A coater.

Mornings, she would arrive in her studio and with a sigh take up her brush to finish an abstract portrait or satirical landscape which she had started months earlier. She hated the delicate dabbing and the minute mixing of colours that seemed to be needed to create her works. The endless search for fresh ideas. The pressure to surpass herself every time, as her critics demanded. To excel. To ‘help art ahead’.

She was fed up with art fairs, prize juries, artist-in-residence applications. She was tired of twittering about her own work. Every morning she was unsure how to make it to the end of the day. How to stay on her chair, staring at Illustrator or at a bit of canvas the size of her phone. Every evening, she had grown a little humpier, a little lumpier.

But she would spring back into shape whenever she allowed herself to stretch a big new canvas. She would gesso it with all the violence of a herd of cows on first leaving their byre in spring.

She knew that the larger works did not sell that well. Miniatures were her thing, miniatures was what she had been in the New Yorker for, so miniatures was what she had to produce. Ever since she had been little, teachers and scholarship committees had begged her to use her talent: her ‘sensitive touch’, her ‘delicate shadings’. So much practice, so much sweat. So much sensible investment. A waste to let that go unused.

Beneath the window, the primed canvases were piling up.

But that is what she dreamt of: covering surfaces; measuring her progress in square metres. Changing the entire aspect of a room in a single day. Flinging paint at walls by the pot-full. Instead of creating subtle satires for a sniggering collector to explain to his private guests, she would brighten up someone’s day with a yellow footbridge, or a sky-blue brick wall bounding with the train track. And at the end of each day, something material would have been accomplished.

While doing her work, she might stumble over an old nail or a rusty spot. But she would simply paint them over! And even if she missed a bit here or there, it would not make a difference in the grand scheme of things. O wonderful meeting of light and labour! O concrete paradise! Acrylic dream!

O, flimsy dream…

Abby Flat-Coat, Hogeweide Bridge near Utrecht (2010). Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 

But one night, Lucia’s followers were able to read the following message:

#greatrelief @smallrelief

And that was that.

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How Not to read (or Occupational disease II)

Do you read a lot for your job, or for other reasons?

Try this:

Walk around town. You will see hundreds of texts, words, letters: advertisements, traffic signs, shop names, bus schedules…

'Piccadilly Circus neon signs', photographed by Billy Hicks. CC-BY-SA 3.0

Can you NOT read this? (‘Piccadilly Circus neon signs’, photographed by Billy Hicks, 2008, CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

Or try looking up something on the Internet. Or in the library. Or even in a dictionary. Words shoot at you from every corner. On some websites they have even acquired a habit of blinking and blipping in and out of sight. Worst of all: seat back advertising in airplanes. (As one ad space seller puts it on its website: ‘cannot miss attention of a traveler.’)

This is what usually happens to me in such a situation: as soon as one of these texts hits my eyes, I read it. Automatically. Whether I am interested or not. My head gets filled with stuff I do not want to know.

Sometimes it gets so bad that I read the words in a picture book before looking at the picture on the page.

Recognise any of this?

Here’s the prescribed treatment:

Look at a word in a script you don’t know. It’s just an abstract picture. No information. Meaningless (if I am allowed to say so). How wonderful.

... but how to read this? (Seal with Cretan hieroglyphs, c. 1800 BCE, photographed by Ingo Pini)

How to read THIS? (Seal with Cretan hieroglyphs, c. 1800 BCE, photographed by Ingo Pini, public domain.)

Hold on to that feeling.

Now look at a word that’s quite common to you, in a language and script that you do know. But do not read it. I repeat: do not read it.

Impossible?

Remember what it was like not to be able to read. You’ll quite simply going to have to unlearn your alphabet. (This should not be attempted in the middle of writing a hfjkaioal sfh fgkj ok got it again).

When you’ve mastered the trick, go out onto the street. Or a library. Or the Internet. And try it out in the wild.

Let me know how you are getting on. (If you got to the end of this piece, you might want to try again.)

This is the second in a series. Earlier: ‘Occupational Disease?’