What should I be doing instead of this?

Me, You and Art

By Bob Woodiwiss · January 31st, 2007 · Estrangement in a Strange Land

I am an artist. A successful artist. My art has been sought after and acquired by the rich and famous; esteemed by the cognoscenti and intelligentsia; exhibited on les Rives Gauche et Droit; paid for by American Express, Visa and once, though I'm not proud of it, Discover Card.

"Are you a painter? A sculptor? A glassblower or scrimshawer?" you ask. "No," I reply, "I am none of those things." Then I send you a bill. Because what's just occurred, careless questioner, is my art. I am a conversation artist. And if you think talk is cheap, call my rep for a price list.

Today, anything, any creation, invention or output, any activity or process, even a dubious ability or gross but replicable error, can be elevated to the level of art. Art is simply a contract between the broadly presumptuous and the particularly susceptible.

-- "Rehearsed Utterance at Another Artist's Opening," Jackson Hole, Wyo., 1991. Medium: English, fully modulated, 60 dB.

Do not confuse my oeuvre with conceptual art or visionary art or humanitarian art or performance art or the theatrical arts, most emphatically, especially and particularly monologism. Conversation art is direct interaction, total engagement, with the viewer(s)/patron(s). The work produced is the unique result of a full and transient collaboration between artist and audience -- with all rights retained by the artist.

My verbal interplay is a dynamic, arbitrary combination of improvisation and the same old shit, of blind conjecture and selective listening, of reactive vehemence and active indifference, of being unable to stay on the subject and refusing to get off it. Ultimately, what I say makes what you say worth my time.

Yes, I suppose you could look at yourself as a canvas on which I create. But I see you more as the paint I wash out of my brushes at the end of the day.

-- "Snarky Riposte to Self-Aggrandizing Oaf," New York, N.Y., 2000. Medium: Maine-accented English with extended middle finger, 67 dB.

What distinguishes my artful conversation from the drab blather of the bland rabble? So, so many things. First and foremost, my quick wit and nimble mind ensure the utilization of a thought-prodding non-ordinariality of vocabularation and phrasecraft. I'm also a pioneer in the use of negative word space -- i.e., occasional, variable pauses in the rhythm of an exchange -- to achieve the illusion of consideration and reflection.

Of course, conversation, by its very nature, demands at least one other participant, a recipient and foil, "raw materials" if you will, and for studio projects I've come to prefer a neutral and absorbent dialectic accessory, one who is capable of accepting my spontaneous flashes and layered flourishes. It should not be surprising, then, that I'm instinctively drawn to the emotionally traumatized, household domestics and Swedes.

You're giving me a very expensive headache.

-- "Bitchy Interruption to One of My Vacation Stories by a Patron/Philistine," private home, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1999. Medium: English, slightly slurred, between Champagne sips, 41 dB.

In my nascent years, during what is now called my Blue Period (1986-1987), I mingled at funerals, artfully consoling grievers on/reminding grievers of their tragic loss and, by doing so, bringing the blubberiest of sobs and vigorous, viscous nose-blows to these groundbreaking aural tapestries. By the early '90s, I'd entered my Black Period and verbally interacted only with art patrons of color who addressed me as "dawg," "bro" or "honky mothafucka."

Certainly, the apex of my career so far has to be Dialogical Conclusions, my 1997 one-man show at MOMA('s Cafeteria), a linked series of spontaneous conversations that married primal rage to the timely passing of condiments. What can I say? Genius -- and the market for it -- is restless.

Art without someone to purchase it is pure self-indulgence, as pointless as masturbating without selling the results to a sperm bank.

-- "Cocktail Party Observation (to a Woman Eating a Crab Puff)," Santa Fe, N.M., 1996. Medium: English, monotonic, 52 dB.

As my art has evolved, so has it become more organic. Gone are brazen techniques such as garden party banter through a bullhorn (1995) and dressing my tongue as a Renaissance pope (1996-97). Which is not to say my palette is any less vivid or that I've abandoned non-verbal, textural, tactile expression altogether. Case in point: I recently began issuing fine spittle spray whenever I relate yachting tales. The critics are mad for it.

To call me a chatterbox, a boor, a raconteur would be like calling Candi or Roxy or any of the dedicated, groundbreaking fornication artists I collaborate with common whores.

-- "Quote from My Art Forum Interview, Which Is Still Technically a Conversation," April 2003. Medium: English with affected effete nasal resonance, 48 dB.

Soon I shall embark on my most monumental and emotionally charged piece to date. For it, I intend to place 103 random phone calls (the piece is underwritten by T-Mobile, which is providing both funding and unlimited weekend minutes) to Bible Belt residents and chat about whether Christ's bowel movements were literally Holy Shits. I find it both delicious and dangerous to imagine what these exchanges might produce, especially since, on my end of the line, I'll be speaking in American Sign Language.

The high road is very often a cul-de-sac.

-- "Observation I Shrewdly Elicited from a Nameless Seatmate on the Tube," London, England, 2006. Medium: Irish-accented English and baleful glower, 80 dB (to overcome ambient train noise).

CONTACT BOB WOODIWISS: bwoodiwiss(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here the last issue of each month. His book, Keys to Uncomfortable Living, a collection of humorous and satirical essays, is in bookstores now.


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