Freedom from Fear

Freedom from Fear

Our era is often called Post-Modern. Ateliers I attend are from the era of Modernism, but a shift came in the 1960s to go beyond ‘Modern’.

The new time of ‘high’, ‘ultra’ and ‘post’ modernity shifted our perception of reality. Suddenly our television sets beamed images of B52s carpet-bombing South East Asian lands in real time. Such visual streaming disturbs and I feel like a bully watching the dreadful sights.

Although Post Modernism is elusive to define, to witness the devastation did cause me to question the sanity of conflicts far away.

Subsequently, on a larger field of engagement, arts’ commentary went into protest mode. Art became a political statement and very raw.

The industrial scale of war horrified each of us. Our protests opened up new thoughts and the old ways were superseded. This reconstruction was called Post-Modern and it ushered in the modern Arts Councils at Federal, State and regional levels.

Artists became ‘clients’ of the Arts Councils, and as customers their consumption was given a monetary value for every activity.

Everything is regarded by a monetary value.

By behaving in certain ways you were paid and progressively charted in cost-benefit analysis of managed art gratification and delivery. Data mining started earnestly and consumers of art mapped. Centrally.

I too submitted data at first, in the 1970s.

Then an atelier conversation changed my take on things.

The Freedom Reality

The art session in the atelier began early. I gouged lead white in oil from a tub and placed it on the glass palette.

“Oh, boy!” My father’s exclamation punctuated into the studio spaces. “Facts do get in the way of a good story! Sometimes facts make the story better to tell.” He super grump-ed while scraping his palette to freshen it for another paint mixing effort.

While sorting through stacked brushes he continued: “You can have the fairies in the tale, the cliques and the bleeding hearts, but the fact is the arts are bloody with insobriety, full of frothy bubbling bloody-mindedness.”

I knew to be silent would spur him on.

“You know, it’s a fact that nobody is automatically entitled to get support. It’s got to be earned, to risk your life for and to take opportunities to acquire.” At times his statements and observations weren’t easy to follow. As I had no idea where this was going I continued to prep my palette silently, turning the putty and fishing for dry paint skins to dump.

Dad muddied white paint on his palette with a spatula to take its blue glare away and make it a useful blob. He squeezed a tube of paint and rolled a brush over it to evict the extra morsel of pigment, persisting: “I went to college with a retarded person, a left-winger who was a progressive, a proactive young man unexposed to the cut-n-thrust of reality.”

I asked: “What is reality?”

“Reality, Pieter, is hunger. Reality is transportation to the end of the line, forcibly off-loaded into a nothingness and left to die, something that happened to the Mennonites who weren’t permitted to cross the border to Holland. The Americans handed them over to the Russians who freighted the lot to Siberian oblivion, never to be heard of again. That’s reality, Pieter.” His answer referred to events that ensued immediately after the Second World War. It was prime ‘grump’ material to my father who had studied under a provocative professor of Frisian history and culture that included the aggrieved Mennonites, our people.

He continued: “Yes, it is true I lament about those who own the momentum in the arts, the policies and the legislature. They are lamentable. I moan about the Disneyesque grotesque false feelings because it’s so hard to see what everyone is on about; those handpicked emerging lightweights who think animals are like us. The Russians Bolsheviks and communists are the real animals. Those butchers are not like us, Pieter.” The observation struck a cord and he added: “We feel the emotions to paint, a novel concept I think.”

I thought aloud: “I feel therefore I am, kind of thing.”

“Yes, Pieter. Goose-stepping automatons don’t think to feel. They are told.”

“And reality?” I asked.

“Reality is to fight.”

“Fight for what?” I persisted.

“Freedom.”

“Freedom to do what then?” I wondered.

“To riot, to romp, to be cranky, to be playful, to love and to not dread what anyone thinks. In the end it’s freedom from fear. That’s why we came to Australia.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied, adding: “And if you accept the Arts Councils’ money you are not free.”

“What are you then?”

“A client.”

Sake Zaadstra “Conversations”, 1976

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