Artist

Joseph Reyes

January 21


I realized yesterday that my best friend, despite being an artist and a gallery owner, is incapable of talking about art. For sure, she can spend hours talking about her works and her self, but she is not the best person to talk to about art, artists, and anything creative. I’m not even sure if she’s interested in art history or anything in the past that could inspire her works. I remember giving her a couple of books about art and artists, sending her links about art, or even trying to talk about potential art concepts, but I can’t remember feeling any interest coming from her in return. If anything, I recall a couple of times being discouraged and just keeping things in the status quo when I tried to brainstorm ideas with her.

She simply can’t or is just disinterested. We try talking about art, and then eventually we drift back to talking about her works, going through the same rote conversations.

Now, I know that this is not a prerequisite for all artists to follow, but it surely helps in guiding one’s work to know about art and be able to talk about them, and to be inspired by bigger artists. It instructs the artists not only with their style but also in how to see their own works. Is an artist painting the way Jackson Pollock painted in order to see the canvas in different directions and show movement? Or is the artist just doing it for pretty colors? Maybe an artist can start with the latter, but knowing who Pollock is and why he painted the way he did, an artist can move on to the former and beyond.

Anyway, I’m going to have to take my art conversations elsewhere.  

February 2


Over the weekend, I was finalizing the design for a book I’m compiling. This is the second time I published a book and god bless Canada for letting citizens publish books and have free ISBNs, essentially encouraging everyone to be publishers. If I had known this when I was in high school, I would’ve published my horrible comic books with my buddy Duane. And now that I’m much older, I’m publishing my horrible art.

In the US, ISBNs are $125 for one number. They are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, but that seems to be more aimed towards small publishers than your regular joe who wants to turn his pdf into a physical book. In Canada, all that’s asked for publishers is that they register their books in the national database and, if possible, send a copy to be archived. This was actually my first motivation to publish a book many years ago, to leave a mark other than in galleries or online. People might forget me in a few years, but in an archive somewhere is a collection of my works which I’m probably too ashamed of and doesn’t represent my current works and tastes anymore. Forget children. A collection of my shameful drawings will be my legacy.

Anyway, it is time I updated my awful works and have a new book published. This time, I’m working on a collection of my full-page busy drawings which I started last September. Last year was horrible, and if something could come out of the awfulness of 2020, it might as well be a small collection of my works.

I don’t expect to get rich off of this, so I’m not yet firm on how I’m going to go about selling and marketing it. So far, I just want to finish it.

March 4


Not my proudest moment, but I flirted with suicide last night. I’m not going to go into details, but I was in a really bad place and I just tested the waters, trying to see if I could ultimately check out.

The truth is, I’m actually a pretty awful person. Aside from being horribly cynical, I’m increasingly depressed, have low self-esteem, hedonistic, self-centered, no dreams for the future, not to mention I have a crippling sex addiction (which probably stems from low self-esteem and self-hating issues). Ultimately, I tend to be pretty shitty to the people closest to me. And quite frankly, they are probably much better off not getting caught up in my bullshit in the first place.

As I mentioned before, I’m only good in small doses. Anything more, and you get to see how awful a person I am. But that’s for people around me though. Unfortunately, I am the person I live with. The call is coming from inside the house. It’s awful. And last night, my self-loathing got to the level of low-stakes suicidal tryouts.

The thing is, coming out of it, I’m not sure if I’m happy I didn’t succeed. And I’m not sure I won’t try again either. I’ve been having suicidal fantasies for years now. I’ve been rehearsing different scenarios over and over again on my head, weighing the pros and cons, etc. I even wrote romantically about it a couple of times. But the dumb thing is, when I finally attempted one scenario, I came away with nothing. Just back to the fantastical drawing board.

Now, this isn’t a cry for help. This is just me writing things the way they are in my head. I’m an awful person who hurts others, and last night, I tried to hurt myself. That’s just the way it is. No lessons learned, no interesting insights. I don’t need people’s help either. And if you talk to me in person about it, I will wave it off and spin a different but far more interesting tale. Maybe I’ll tell you a long drawn out joke as a distraction. Ever heard of the suicidal moth? What about the systemic racism in the world of olives?

This is just my version of r/SuicideWatch, so don’t be too alarmed. And quite frankly, if I do succeed, the keyword is “succeed.” It would be a pleasant surprise that no one should be mourning over.

February 24


I started watching this Korean drama entitled, “Sisyphus, the Myth.” I’m only two episodes in and I’m already not liking it. I can’t stand Tony Stark and the Tony Stark fantasy. I can’t stand how Koreans and Marvel fans love and worship the idea of a genius billionaire, when billionaires should be villified for hoarding wealth. The main character is basically a Tony Stark type and the first episode couldn’t help but cheese me out a bit in building him up. The filming and the writing, while very ambitious, also reeked of ambitiousness. It’s very hard to explain, but it reminds me of the first two episodes of Star Trek Picard, with the mixture of action, mystery, and plot holes.

So instead of the drama “Sisyphus, the Myth,” let me just quickly discuss “The Myth of Sisyphus” instead, a book by Camus, the one which I suspect the writers borrowed the title from. As I understood it, the book looks at absurdist philosophy. Life is essentially absurd. We toil all of our lives and the world constantly brings us unexpected hardships. And the closer we are to achieving our dreams as we age, for the lucky few that is, the closer we are to death. Now, looking at the absurd nature of life, isn’t the most logical solution suicide? After all, if you’re in an absurd relationship or stuck in an absurd job, isn’t the most logical solution to just quit?

Now, I’m guessing the Korean drama will be touching up on the absurdity of life since the show deals with time travel, etc. But yeah, that’s the last time I mention that show.

But thinking about aging and death. I suppose this is the reason why young people are generally seen as more attractive than people who are more mature. Forget biology and the ability to procreate. Young people are much farther from death than people who are older. The touch of death, as it starts getting in people’s skin, they become less attractive.

Another thing which I found interesting about the book is the idea that “if the world were not absurd, art would not exist.” This is similar to the old idea of art illuminating truths, that artists see the world in a certain way, and use art to express the truths that they see. These all sound very lofty, which makes me wonder why artists are often undervalued as a calling or profession. Unless you’re making millions out of your art, it’s often just treated as a quirky hobby.

Actually, this kinda reminds me of an episode of Peep Show, where a woman was complaining about all of the bad news on the news, “What about the good news? The news where things actually went well?” Well, if the news was like that, it would just be a long, insufferable list of observations of things functioning as they are. The news needs tragedy, otherwise it won’t be news. That’s why I can’t stand news that aren’t really news, like the announcement of the oldest person in the world. There will always be a new oldest person in the world. As Camus would probably attest, the oldest person in the world is probably the one closest to death. 

February 17


You are not your job. You are not your relationships. You are not your art either. As much as some artists like to sell their persona as part of their art, it is all bullshit. Only a few people can pull this off. You’re not Warhol. You’re not Dali. Stop it.

Buying a piece of art is not the same as buying a person. A person might be buying a piece of work, but the work should be able to stand on its own, without the artist. Again, I’m talking about artists who are relatively unknown, but I think it’s a mistake to intermingle the personal aspect of social media too much with art. I notice this particularly on Instagram. I think it’s fine to have an art page and have some of your personal life and even development process in your page, but I notice some artists get way too much into themselves and it stops being about the art and more about selling the artist, to which I say, calm down and think first if you really want to do that to yourself. It’s really doing a disservice to your own art and your growth, and probably contributes to perpetuating the image of artists being self-centered attention hounds.

One telltale sign of this phenomenon are pictures showing the scale or artworks. Of course this is all just my opinion, but if you want to show the scale of a piece of art and put yourself in the picture, and you take up more real estate than the piece, then maybe the picture on the Instagram page is not about the art at all.

The second red flag for me is when I the viewer is constantly informed of the artist’s life and more effort seems to be put on creating the artist’s persona than the art itself. One infamous “artist” in Korea who is no longer in media used to be on TV selling herself as an artist but seems to be more focused on portraying a quirky persona, a dumb and lazy stereotype given to artists. And if one looks up her works, they’re really nothing to write home about. Thankfully, she’s now no longer showing up on television and is so forgotten that her name escapes me.

On a similar note, if viewers kept getting reminded of the artist’s condition, be it depression, physical disabilities, or ailments, then I start getting tired, if not irritated. Van Gogh had a very well-established mental condition, but he developed his own style and grew as a post-Impressionist, selling (and at the time failing to sell) his works solely for their merit and not as a byproduct of his illness. Right now, the works stand on their own. We do not need to know he was mentally ill. The same goes with Munch, Goya, and O’Keefe. And while we’re at it, Picasso, Rodin, Michelangelo, Degas, and many others were assholes. But we do not need to know of their assholery to admire their works. The works stand on their own.

And since we’re talking about asshole artists, I think there’s a difference between enjoying a dead artist’s genius and giving money to a current, living asshole. I think it’s perfectly fine to enjoy the works of dead artists who might have been assholes in the past. It’s the same way one can admire great ancient structures in Europe while completely ignoring about how Europe plundered so much wealth out of so many countries. It’s another thing however to pay for a movie directed by Bryan Singer, Roman Polanski, or Woody Allen. I do love watching the pirated version of “Rosemary’s Baby” however.

The third red flag is something I mentioned in passing. The works simply don’t stand on their own. Taken without the artist in mind, will anyone take notice of it? Does it look amateurish or plain? Not to be insulting here, but elephants can be tortured to paint canvasses. They are very primitive swaths of color, almost like a random accident. But because they are made by tortured elephants, they become something else. Does an artist’s work look average? Is it elevated by the artist’s “story”? Then maybe it’s not about the artwork at all. Now, I love Dada and the idea of found objects and readymades, but their “stories” are concepts which are itself art. I don’t think the everyday life of an artist and their struggles with whatever ails them compares with Dada.

So why do I care? Why do I write these things? Because I want you to grow. I want you to look at your work and really evaluate it. If a stranger saw it somewhere, would it be compelling for them or would it be ignored? For what reason should they be staring? Give your audience a reason to stare. Make it about the art and not about yourself. This is why I tend to distrust actors or singers who decide to become artists. Their work can be mediocre but it is immediately elevated by their celebrity, totally separate from any artistic merit of the artwork itself. The only reason people will look at a dumb shoe “made” by Kanye West is that he said he designed it. Forget that they all look dumb compared to other shoes in the market.

I think artists need to decide whether they’re selling themselves or their art. Maybe they can be successful at both. It can happen! But often I see people calling themselves artists but are too busy with the art persona and not the art. So yeah, if you’re an artist, start with showing more art and less of your dumb artist face.