Overnight Success as a Seven Year Project

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is hosting an installation of British Artist Jeremy Deller’s works. Deller was interviewed on our local NPR station, KWMU. After listening to the interview, I looked into the details on the CAM web site: http://www.camstl.org/exhibitions/main-gallery/jeremy-deller-joy-in-people/ Now I really want to go and see for myself.

Deller described the start of his journey in Art by saying, “I was just stumbling around, going from one thing to the next and just seeing how it went. You’re not really thinking of a career as such. Overnight success is like a seven year process, really.” He was incredibly earnest as he spoke about the works he’s created around people who are marginalized, like the Unrepentant Smokers contingent in one of his processions.

I’ve visited CAM and found the space conductive to interactive installations. I’m particularly interested in visiting Valerie’s Snack Bar, a recreation of a Manchester eatery originally created in 2009 as a float, and seeing the video that accompanies the installation.

Listening to the KWMU interview, I was struck by Deller’s candid admission that his work has not been easily accessible and, largely, unsellable. He creates art around things that aren’t necessarily permanent – processions (or what we Yanks call parades), musical events, and even protests. While Deller is a visual artist, his journey has been not so very different from a writer’s, especially for those of us who don’t write commercially attractive novels.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with expression that is unsellable; freedom to push into uncomfortable territory; freedom to express your vision in ways that are unconventional; freedom to experiment with forms and sequences that don’t fit neatly into categories or genres. But that freedom comes at a cost. Most of us have to do other things to pay the bills and that limits our time to create. Most of us want some kind of reinforcement for our work. And that can be hard to find when your work goes unsold.

I knew very little about Deller before hearing about his work at CAM. I knew I liked him, though, when he spoke about his first installation, in his bedroom in his parents’ house where he included likenesses of Keith Moon, the iconic drummer for the Who. But it’s this bit of advice that spoke loudest to me: “Try and push yourself to do silly things.”

My “project” has far exceeded seven years. I ebb and flow with my commitment to writing. I can lapse into periods of lethargy that put sloths to shame. But when I push myself, I can do incredibly silly things.

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