Cherwell tries…Being an Artist

I am art. I am creator. I have ‘originality’ written through me like a stick of Brighton rock. Day to day, I create. Afterwards, I comment on others’ creations, and try to trick people into thinking I am an intellectual.

Sadly, my barbed comments about others’ art are not always heard, however loudly I spit them out in the echoing recesses of the Tate. My diet of crumpets and gin, though charmingly eccentric, has left me malnourished and emaciated. I can’t wait to get back to Oxford for a hearty brunch and a glass of port. For the past weekend, I have been living with a group of art students living in a filthy flat in Finsbury Park. Alliteration aside, mine is a dismal state of affairs.

The flat is paid for by a combination of parental handouts, student loans and sheer luck. Bills are not included in the scandalously low rent, but no one knows who pays for the gas or electric. The tenants don’t ask and the landlord doesn’t tell. They think he keeps bodies in the boiler room but no one pushes it: it adds, they think, to the flat’s mystique.

The floor is littered with paint palettes and fag ends. Days are spent in artistic frenzies and everyone has a drinking problem. It quickly becomes clear to me that each artist is treading the thin line between art and masturbation, but only one flatmate has addressed this explicitly in his work: he recently filmed himself wanking delicately into a human skull. The footage received a wink and a thumbs up from his tutor. No one knows why.

The artist I am shadowing is named Marcus, a friend of a friend who returns to his pleasant house in Surrey on the weekends when he needs his washing done. His art school friends are intolerably hip and relentlessly opinionated. Pre-drinks end with definitive proclamations about the role of the artist, and people have been known to leave when Marcus misdefines colour theory. The paintings that germinate in their dust-lined living room do not necessarily retain value outside of it, although Marcus’s grandmother buys an abstract imagining of a penis every Christmas.

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My companion tires of me rapidly. I am neither attractive enough nor weird enough to be his muse. I am also in the way: when trying to create my own masterpiece, I get oils on the inside of Marcus’ flatmate Cosmo’s overalls. Oils on the inside of overalls defeats the purpose of overalls, he snarls, and I am consigned to the kitchen like a mucky dog.

Between 4 and 11am, Cosmo paints, overalls askew. The look in his eyes is that of a wolf eying alamb at 50 paces. He has one goal, and that is to create what he is currently imagining. He looks ridiculous as he scrutinises his work at dawn through turpentine-stained fingers, but he is entirely independent. The first and only person he wants to impress is himself.

It is this thought that prevents me from boarding the Oxford Tube with an entitled  spring in my step. This term’s hard-won tally of good essays is anathema to Cosmo. My tutor’s lazy ticks and reluctant praise seemed pivotal in Oxford, but now they leave me cold.

 I become aware that my course is based on replication and analysis, while Cosmo creates. The 2500 recycled words a student churns out each week on Chaucer or Sartre or Locke are fine, but no undergrad will ever consecrate a week of his or her life to my work unless, like Cosmo, I actually create something.