The Doodle Years


It has been a relatively short time since my graduation. The sweeping changes to ‘the life and times of Lar MacGregor’ that I simply expected, have not manifested with quite the haste anticipated. Like a breath inhaled I await the rush and the success of the outbreath.

After graduation, we are dropped haphazardly ashore to contemplate the fundamental fact that these artistic lives that we hoped to live do not manifest quickly. The yearnings and fears, the small-spirited grudges and passionate loves, the achievements and the failures, will simply pass like the lives and loves and losses of every other art student who has come before us and every other art student who will come after…

…of course…the healing power of art for me, is not a rhetorical fantasy. Having spent a childhood running from ‘the bullies’, creativity and art became the friend of survival, my sanity and my strength. I know of no pain or angst, that art cannot appease.

I like to live slowly. The modern world is often too fast paced for me, too loud and confrontational. Retreating into the quiet of my workshop, looking around at my orderly workspace and picking up the tools of my trade, fills me with a river of peace. This is where my passion lies.

Passion. Now there’s a word that inspires a response. The accepted understanding of passion is that it is a feeling of intense enthusiasm towards or a compelling desire for someone or something. By varying degrees it induces interest and admiration for a proposal or a cause, enthusiastic pleasure for an activity or strong attraction towards a person or career. Passion is seen as positive, as a keystone for successful businesses or relationships. I have been passionate about art all of my life. Is that passion seen to have value?

From the Latin, valere ‘be worth, be strong; be of value’ and according to an online etymology dictionary, Value as noun, is ‘the price equal to the intrinsic worth of a thing’ and as verb, ‘to estimate the value of’.

The act of creating art itself is an evolutionary process. Before I could read or write I was filling up my Mam’s notebooks with cryptic iconography and explorations of colour. The act of committing crayon to paper developed a trust in my own ability to explore my terrain and to build trust in my capacity to survive it. This secret world had value beyond the understanding of the onlooker and I cannot attest to the intrinsic worth of the ‘doodle years’. As a fully-ledged artist, emerging or otherwise, I now have to navigate the pitfalls of valuing my art and that inevitably makes me question passion.

In his book ‘Something of his art’, Horatio Clare not only tells the tale of ‘Bach, The Early Years’ but walks in his footsteps and experiences first-hand how momentous his journey was. During the winter of 1705, Johann Sebastian Bach walked 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck in Germany to see and hear Dietrich Buxtehude, the organist in charge of St Mary’s church. This pivotal walk in Bach’s development transformed him from a twenty year old teacher renowned for his drinking and belligerence, to the genius of the Baroque and one of the great composers. It was Bach’s passion for music and his persistence in the pursuit of knowledge and his need to experience his art in person, that arguably led to growth and success. Value in a sense, came after passion. Self-worth, strength and competence followed on from the antagonism of youth.

Fleetingly, I wondered if a long walk fuelled by passion and sustained by drunken debauchery would assist in deciphering the value behind my passion, but by popular consensus, I decided against it. ‘About passion not profit’ rings in my ears and I am reminded of Peter Hill’s blog on the ART NORTH website. Hill recounts a story of passion, an epic journey to succeed and the world’s inability to comprehend the worth behind his passion. Is this the norm? Does failure to persuade the powerful few result in my art as currency, being devalued and dismissed before I even step foot outside of my workshop door?

I am an optimist. My innate tendency and fairly stable and persistent personality characteristic is to reliably adjust to stressful situations (echoes of the doodle years here) and so my health and wellbeing box is usually checked in all that I do. The question ‘How shall I live?’ is on repeat however, and finding a reliable way to discern value in my art and place profit higher on my agenda, an ever present niggle on my happy horizons.

The foremost prerequisite for buying any artwork is that innate desire for the art object. Adding historical, critical or social context to the object deepens the narrative, illuminating its conceptual and/or physical production value. So, in monetary terms, materials used, tools and equipment purchased, skills acquired, all assist in valuing my art…but how does the ephemeral or the socially engaged performance based aspects of my art practice factor in to my value base, ethically or financially?

Living as I do, as many of us do, with art at the core of my being, leads to a life of questions. In an art world that demands that the artist explain their art with ever increasing profundity and preposterously complex dialogue, alienating vast swathes of potential audiences, how am I to apportion value to process? To experience? To passion? Slowly, slowly, value creeps in: value of self, of my experience and knowledge and not just material costs. Evolution however is a slow process and the quest to align passion, profit and value, an ancient one.

So, whether my creativity, sense of worth and value comes from the imagined smile on a loved ones face or the warming sustenance of a morning bowl of porridge, the key to profit, seems to be a basic one. Placing value on the experience of living and loving, on participation and attendance, on organisational bodies, funders and more importantly, me, placing value on my profession as artist within any sustainable development goals.