Story Of An Artist

In this week’s Punk Rock Gospel, we consider the song by Daniel Johnston. Dia – and Muotikummitus – ask a question that’s more of a koan. In art and words, we wonder what it takes to be a working artist.

writing by Dia VanGunten
Art By Muotikummitus

We’re having tech issues, especially with long text pieces plus art plus video, which is the gospel’s whole jam. So I decided against it. I had a big deadline, so I was glad to just focus on my work. As if producing this magazine isn’t work, as if it’s not real writing, any of the writing I do for Cream Scene, from copy to gospel. That’s weird, right? Where’s that poison come from?

It’s Monday now. I’m well into this relief. I’ve had some rest. I needed it. Rest from myself, I mean. You needed it too, or so I imagine. When I canceled the gospel, I figured it was for the best, because I’m “on a burger.” That’s my outdated term for when autism is really running the show. I am currently a sloppy, drippy, bloody burger. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Where’s all this poison come from?

Capitalists are just protestants without the bonnets. We’re letting long dead religious assholes tell us how to live. Every hour must be of “value.”  Everything must be some shining evidence of work. Our bodies must be obviously honed and well tended, same as our yards. If there is something wrong with your body or your house, if you don’t have a house, if the bones in your body are aging, well, you did not work hard enough, or take proper care of that body. 

We’ve been trained to internalize.

We can’t question the system. That’s built right into the system.

Which is really asking a lot of us because the systemic failures are becoming more and more obvious. Let’s pretend we’re in some kinda sci fi future – authoritarian, dystopian, just fucking brutal. Got it? That was easy enough. 

In this twisted society, reality is a curved screen, a digital dome like Plato’s cave. But the tech is outdated and the infrastructure is crumbling. There’s plenty of money, that’s imaginary, so no prob there. No, this is like the worst episode of hoarders you’ve ever seen. This is like the Tom Robbins novel where the Vatican hides all the treasures of the world. 

It keeps happening where the wheatfields on the left side of town just glitch out. Golden stalks are replaced by like, let’s say, a hungry child, or a man calling for his mother as cops murder him. We all witness it. But we are supposed to go along as if we still believe that it’s just a bountiful field of wheat that’ll eventually be harvested into sandwiches for the employee picnic. We shouldn’t call bullshit: “Hey, wait a minute? What kinda holodeck con is this?”

Myth: America is the land of opportunity. Anyone can get ahead, if they work hard. 

Fact: America deprives us of basics like nutrition, healthcare, dental care. Colleges take bribes from rich parents. Politicians grift their way to office. The income gap is immoral. 

Yea, I skipped this week’s Punk Rock Gospel, and I felt good about it. I didn’t even look at the dashboard yesterday, but this morning, I noticed that some of you came looking for it. I wondered what I could’ve said that might’ve had any value, and wondered if I said anything of value last week. Then I was writing the promo for these photos by Muotikummitus, an artist who inspires me, and suddenly, it’s not an instagram caption, but a meditation on the working artist. 

Cream Scene has been talking to artists about how they’re working and how they are surviving. The answer: Barely. One of our prominent contributors is currently homeless. Many are being forced out of their homes or their cities. So many of us are living without healthcare. So many of us need it. We are ill. We are disabled. We are employed. We are unemployed. We are starving artists.  We are sex workers. We are waitstaff. Jobs are killing us. Poverty is killing us. To society, the solution is simple. Stop carrying on with this ridiculous idea. 

An artist? Who do you think you are? Vincent VanGogh?

To them, we’re cryptids. Bigfoot doesn’t exist, and if he does, he better not. Artists can exist, conceptually, historically. Vincent Van Gogh is allowed to exist. Now. But back when he was alive, he painted over masterpieces because the next one was coming, and he couldn’t afford a new canvas. We have expensive “hobbies” – art supplies, submission fees, studio rentals, not to mention the wasted time. We should probably be ashamed of ourselves. We are the gluttons the bible warns against. We are greedy piglets who want too much from life. 

For me, personally, I’ve had to choose art over everything. I planned to have it all. I imagined a book deal and a literary agent. Maybe my own magazine! Marriage and a set of twins. A house in Austin (the floor, a mosaic of broken teacups; a high fence and an outdoor bathtub.) I did the things. In my early 20’s, I wrote the book, got the agent, bought a house, mosaic’d the floor and met a man. I disappeared into art, had seizures, got writer’s block, took out a home equity loan, started a storybook-themed boutique, lost the house, moved south, conceived twins, lost em, found em, lost em, wrote more books, wrote a whole series, then another, hoarded my work like a wanna be billionaire, took long sunset walks and listened to the song “Story Of An Artist.”

 After everything, I was old.

I was the artist in the Daniel Johnston song: 

Listen up and I’ll tell a story

About an artist growing old

Some would try for fame and glory

Others aren’t so bold

Everyone and friends and family

Saying, “hey, get a job

Why do you only do that only?

Why are you so odd?”

“We don’t really like what you do

We don’t think anyone ever will

It’s a problem that you have

And this problem’s made you ill”

The artist walks alone

Someone says behind his back

“He’s got his gall to call himself that

He doesn’t even know where he’s at”

What does it mean to be disabled?

You lose houses.

What does it mean to be uninsured?

You lose babies.

Hey, I tried to choose that other life. I put all the pieces into play, I did the steps to enact that have-it-all dream, but I couldn’t make it “work.”

In part, the capitalists are correct. I have made my choices, and I always choose art, but my country makes it almost impossible. As it stands, I don’t see how anyone manages to juggle art and personhood. (Never mind, parenthood.)

I do not want it all.

I can’t actually handle it all. 

Which reminds me, this magazine:
the burger, me sharing thoughts before I’ve thought them through, or plans before I’ve done my due diligence, there’s a lot of room for error here.

Thing is, that was always part of the Cream Scene aesthetic, maybe because I know who I am, or maybe because I love the trickster’s glitch. The tear in the fabric of reality. That is the artist’s domain, after all. Rent is cheap. Fruit grows in the trees. If you’re not a good climber, just befriend a monkey. All artists move here eventually. We can’t afford to live elsewhere.

Maybe we don’t want to…but it’d be nice to have the choice.

Is there a doctor in the house? 

Speaking of unpaid artists, we have a few last pieces in need of illustration before we close out this issue. Please see Katy or Dia (or the spreadsheet if you’re a member of the art department and prefer a preview.) Maybe you already have just the thing.

About the Author

Dia VanGunten explores overlaps between genres, between poetry and prose, between the real and the magical. Her current fiction project is Pink Zombie Rose. Follow @pinkzombierose for more updates.

About the Artist

Muotikummitus, born 1971 in Finland, is an artist who works in a variety of media. Their work is based on DIY. Everything is done by themselves from designing the looks, making the outfits, hair and make-up, modeling and photography. They enjoy the search for different materials, upcycling secondhand materials and other finds. They get the inspiration from these, how to transform these old bits and bobs into something glamourous or fantastically weird. Their work focuses on alternative subcultures, fashion and gender. Muotikummitus likes to provoke with their work by challenging gender roles or stereotypes through playful and thought-provoking pieces. They also like to use working with various media as a way to investigate the process of working with different techniques or materials.

In December, Muotikummitus agreed to cook something up for the “Mayday! Mayday!” issue. We don’t know what they will do with Mayday’s themes – anti-capitalism, worker’s rights, and “Dark Fae” – but we know that it’ll be brilliant.

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