Among other things, I’ve been doing some research into the artist Yayoi Kusama recently. I am currently reading her autobiography Infinity Net, which is fairly cut and dried, but has a few fascinating insights into this rather prolific artist’s work and mind.
To give you a little bit of background, she is a Japanese artist, who grew up during World War II, and eventually found her way to New York city in the late ’60’s, where she played a crucial role in the avant garde scene. She came to America to escape not only her family and the oppressive social structure of Japan, but to help over come and escape her anxieties and neurosis. She stayed in NYC for almost two decades, finally choosing to return to Tokyo, where she currently lives in an open ward mental hospital.
What is compelling to me about her work, is that she uses it as a sort of catharsis for her anxiety and fears, from which she has suffered since childhood. Kusama’s mass production of phalli, and subsequent covering of objects such as chairs and boats with them, is an attempt to confront something that terrifies her and turn it into something amusing. Her manic covering of herself and all things with polka dots, an attempt at “self obliteration” and an outward manifestation of her diagnosis of dis-personalization.
Fascinating stuff, you should check it out imaginary reader…but I’ll get to the point of this post now. As I said, I’ve been reading her autobiography, and toward the end is a very…apropos bit to some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to my own work. And so, I wanted to share:
“I have been painting, sculpting, and writing for as long as I can remember. But to tell the truth, to this day I do not feel that I have ‘made it’ as an artist. All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes. But by the power of my spirit and my single-hearted pursuit of the path, I have clawed my way through the labyrinthine confusion of the world of people in an unstinting effort to approach even one step closer to the realm of the soul.
If you think about it, there is nothing inherently distinguished about the occupation of the artist- or politician, say, or doctor…
An artist is by no means superior to others just by the virtue of making art. Whether you are a labourer, farmer, janitor, artist, politician, or doctor, if you have managed in the midst of a society awash with lies and madness to get one step closer to the awe-inspiring brilliance of your own life, the footprint you leave behind is that of someone who has truly lived as a human being.
Today, many people take the path of gluttony, or lust, or greed, flailing and floundering as they vie for worldly fame. in such a society, seekers of truth find that their burden is great and the road steep and hard. But that is all the more reason for us to seek a rosier future for the soul.
Many people seem to imagine that Vincent van Gogh must have been great because his paintings now fetch enormously high prices, or because he was mentally ill. But such people have not really seen van Gogh… My view is that in spite of whatever illness he may have had, van Gogh’s art overflows with humanity, tenacious beauty, and the search for truth. His real greatness lies in these qualities, and in his fiery and passionate approach to life.
For an aspiring artist like myself, to triumph over an unjust environment is to triumph over the pain of feeling cornered and trapped. I see it as a trial or test attendant upon having been born a human being, which is why I continue to fight with every fibre of my being. This is my own peculiar karma and destiny in this world…
I intend to intensify further my search for the truth that leads to the light. I want to lift my heart towards a brighter future, with some sense of reverence for human beings…I have chosen art as the means to accomplish this. It is a lifelong task. And even if only one person in the next hundred years were to comprehend what is in my heart, I would continue to create art for the sake of that one individual.”
-Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net