A Boycott of Beauty / by Chris Hall

Sisyphus with his boulder.

Sisyphus with his boulder.

"His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  Those words were written by the Romantic poet John Keats.  I used to be a Romantic.  Today I am not.  Today I am feeling decidedly like a Punk Anarchist.  Fuck Beauty.  I've tried Beauty and it betrayed me.  I do not recommend it.  Beauty is a lie.  At times I want to strangle the stars for all they've promised me.  If truth is reality and reality is ugliness, it would follow, then, that truth is ugliness.  There are times when I want to be ugly in return, to exact revenge, to give back what has been given to me, only amplified.  Feedback fed back.  Today I feel the angst in me like I haven't felt since 1994.  Teenaged angst at 39, how strange is that?!  

Why?  I found out recently the real reason why I am being paid $? dollars an hour at my job.  I was told by my unnamed employer (unnamed because even in these circumstances I value my job) that the reason I am being paid $? dollars an hour selling art supplies is because it is essentially easy to find artists who would work for that wage.  So the teen angst is fitting, maybe, in that I am being paid like a teenager.  To put this in perspective, consider the following.  At my work we also sell other products, like furniture.  Furniture people make more an hour because it is harder to find people who will/can sell furniture.  What the Hell kind of economics is that?!  $? an hour!  We do the same job, but sell different products.  And I perform skilled labor.  I use the knowledge that I acquired in six years of college everyday.  Some might say not to take that sort of thing personal, that it is just business, supply and demand (of people, no less), but to the people whom it effects, it is really hard not to take that sort of thing personal.  People are not a commodity.  To put it bluntly, I work for an art supply store that discriminates against artists.  And this is but one more instance of the world discriminating against artists, as if artists don't have enough trouble surviving in society.  But just because this is “business as usual,” it doesn't mean that it is right, that I have to accept it and internalize it as inevitable.

We artists are shit upon so frequently by society, is it any wonder that we are so radical?  That we sometimes produce works that many in bourgeois society would consider ugly?  Yes, today I want to be ugly.  I wonder what would happen if all artists would unilaterally decide to boycott beauty, to produce only ugly works of art.  What, then, would become of society?  Would it rot and fall apart at the seams?  Every generation gets the art it deserves, and this generation is no exception.  We need more ugly art, not just art devoid of aesthetics (that might be considered coolly conceptual), but genuinely ugly art, and lots of it fast.  We need to bury this world in it, until they can't breathe anymore and they scream for mercy, rub its nose in it, like a bad dog who shits in the house, while yelling “you did this!”  We should do this until the world comes to its senses and realizes its mistakes.   

I get knocked down so many times, over and over again, and I still fight.  Sometimes, though, I get so tired of fighting and I wonder why I am still here.  It is a miracle, really.  I've thought about “it” a lot over the years . . . and maybe you know what I mean by “it.”  Art prejudice has effected all aspects of my life, from my income, to my health, to my love life.  Too often I am an angry pessimist, and when people tell me to cheer up and look at the bright side of life, I snarl like a wild wolf on the inside, wanting to lash out at them for their good fortune and their pampered sunshiny life.  I've worked so hard – and yet I'm told to be patient.  But when you are verging on middle age, it is really hard to be patient.  I feel like I have long since paid my dues.  It is so tempting to give up, to abandon art and find another trade.  But I can't; it is against my very nature.  It is who I am.  If the cycle continues, and it probably will, I will eventually find a new thread of optimism to hesitantly latch onto, and I will try again.  Like Sisyphus, I might be doomed to roll that boulder back up that Hell hill, to almost reach the top, and to be achingly hopeful, once again, of a final success . . .  I can not bring myself to write the words completing this myth . . . maybe one day I will find peace, I will find rest.  Maybe one day I will find all the answers to my questions, which usually start with . . . Why?  

It seems so strange to me, that those who most pursue life with passion - that is artists - are the ones most likely to be punished by it.

For Part Two of this blog, click here:  A Boycott of Beauty Part Two