I HAVE to tell you Something: the Truth about Confessional Art

“Maybe there is no way to leave the world a better place, and the only thing left to do is tell the truth” Daisy Anne Gree

First of all, huge thanks to everyone who gave suggestions and questions on my preliminary post last weekend. I hope I address your concerns, if not give you the answers you wanted – where I have failed in either respect, feel free to haul me up on it.

[NB I realise I have reached the end and said not a word on the subject either of Foucault or the medieval penance manuals that I’d intended to make the focus of the piece. Maybe there will be time in the comments but consider as a footnote: what is it that confession has always given, and why were confession manuals produced to accompany it, reminding us of the specific details of sins? Is the language of penance and salvation actually a metaphor for the life or death need to externalise I will talk about? Is the endless detail and expansion of the penance manuals an early recognition of the absolute importance of subjectivity, specificity, particularity? With Foucault, do we in the confession process hand power of life and death to the embodied external [the You who MUST listen if we are not to die?] Contra Foucault, is it not just the You who holds the power of withholding ears/salvation, but the I who manifests the power of their own subjectivity and therefore existence in commanding an audience?]

When I was 15, there was a period of about 3 months when I didn’t talk to a single person. Not a teacher, not a schoolmate, not a parent. I’m not sure anyone could have known why – I was, at least in those middling years, a sullen teenager, who’d cultivated the art of answering every question with a grunt, and retreating to his own mind, which I found infinitely more interesting than anything around me. So it would have taken telepathy for even my parents to realise what was going on in my head in response to the fact that every one of the 10 or so really good friends I had at school cut me off overnight, not only not speaking to me but avoiding me in the street, making sure to jeer loudly when any of the “popular kids” was around, and generally smacking me up whenever the teacher wasn’t looking, and sometimes when the sportier teachers, who also played the game, were. All because of a weird story about me someone (I still don’t know who) had made up for the hell of it.

What was going on in my head morphed. It started with, in the words of Freakshow, and even though the incident hadn’t happened, “a nightly Columbine zoetrope tamazepam blur, rejubilant slur, infinite whir, sleep now smack-rush joy lie there the deserving dead and never stir”. For about a month I thought about nothing but getting a machine gun and mowing everyone in school into the ground. It’s something I’d fantasised about for years beforehand on and off, and would do on and off again for the rest of my teenage years. It would be disingenuous of me to say there is any part of me that would be sorry if those former schoolmates endured a painful end, except the part of me that would have to watch the endless eulogies of their so-called sainted lives (but when we recognise that absolute truth is individual truth, we have to acknowledge the truth of those who mourn is just as real as that of those who rejoice, and even accept that they will never see it the same).

After a while those fantasies stopped. I realised they were futile, and it was much easier just to think about killing one person, myself. Half the time I thought about how. That was the rational half. The rest of the time the noise in my head was so loud, so hideous, so painful, scraping the inside of my skull, beating to get out, I found the only way to get rid of it was to use a piece of wood I’d picked up at a hardware store, and batter the back of my leg until I had bruises on bruises on bruises and the pain of that was almost enough to distract me.

And then one day, and I have no idea why, I picked up a pen and started writing about it – not in diary form, but in the form of stories, fictionalisations, fantasies, poems, things that seemingly bore no resemblance. And since then, as long as I have been able to carry on writing, there have been periods of up to weeks at a time when I haven’t thought about killing myself.

So. Are you all sitting comfortably now? Probably not, I’d guess.

And WHY you’re not feeling comfortable, those of you who aren’t, and a couple of other points arising from this happy reminiscence, is the subject of this piece. It’s about “confessional art”, that hugely misunderstood term that we all associate with Tracey Emin (she is, after all, Professor of Confessional Art).

First, I want to give a working definition. By confessional art, I include the kind of autobiography I’ve given above, that kind of plonking the thoughts out raw that Emin is so good at. But it’s more than that. Like the early stories that first gave me my life back, it’s about confession in the truest sense – about the need to get things from out of your head and into the world – and that doesn’t always mean simply recounting.

It means telling the absolute truth. But the absolute truth in question, because this is about you, is YOUR truth. It’s whatever form that inner life takes. It’s about taking that inner life, that absolute and personal truth, in the form it presents itself to you, and replicating it in the world.

I want to make three simple points. That’s all. First, I want to say why confessional art is important for the artist. Second, I want to explain why I think it provokes such outrage. And third, I want to explain why its value is more universal than any other form of art.

Why does confessional art matter? Well, literally, it is a matter of life and death. Sometimes it fails. Sometimes a person can tell and tell but the noise in their head is so loud it kills them anyway – history is full of that – Plath and Cobain to start. And it’s given rise to something that’s not just a myth but is plain the opposite of true. There’s a story that creative types are prone to mental illness and self-harm. That is, in technical parlance, bollocks. The fact they are able to take what’s inside them, eating them up, and express it, offers, if anything, the chance of survival that many non-creative types with such thoughts never get. It’s just that those poor sods don’t leave their story behind, so they’re as forgotten in death as they often were in life.

Why does confessional art save lives? It’s not about catharsis or redemption. It’s more basic and brutal. It’s the closest you can get when the pressure in your head is at bursting to taking a knife and cutting out a chunk of your skull to make the noise bearable. That’s my experience of it anyway – you may well have a different one. The point is that because it’s about taking out what’s in your head, the more you fabricate, the more you elaborate, the less effective it will be. Your only option is to take whatever’s there, and lay it out as you find it. and that’s why people who rail against confessional art, however understandable their motive, well, I’m not going to say it – you do the math.

In other words, when people say “ah but that’s not confessional, it’s a novel”, they’re not necessarily right. The only person who knows if a piece is confessional is the artist.

Why DO people respond so strongly, whether it be “get out of my face” or “that’s not art”?

It’s part that confessional art crosses a line. It says in public what people believe should be kept private. It’s self-absorbed. I have a feeling that every single criticism boils down to this – confessional art is about the artist and no one else, and people just don’t think that’s right.

And they’re absolutely wrong to criticise.

Not just because for the artist, confessional art is a matter of life and death, but because, and this is point three, confessional art does what “true art” was always meant to do in a way no other art can.

Art is meant to convey universals, to unite, to draw commonalities and connections. I want to contend that it is only the absolutely individual nature of confessional art that can achieve this.

Why? OK, consider this. If we set out to examine themes, questions, issues that connect us to others, what are our tools? We attempt to describe those aspects of life, nature, the human condition that we share.

Only we don’t really share anything with any other human beings – sure, there are similarities, there are resemblances, there are those things close enough that to enable us to get through everyday life, or to evolve, we can lump together, but such lumping is artifice. Any attempt to convey commonality actually does nothing but emphasise our lack of it. There is no Gen X experience, no bipolar experience. Talking as though there is just creates lies, and distance.

But when we strip away the pretence of commonality and focus on nothing but the absolute truth of our individuality, on the simple perceptions that stream through our heads, on the pre-cognitive scream inside us, we zoom in total clarity on the one thing that DOES bind us – whatever its content that indescribable, inarticulable scream is the one thing we all share.

The taste of MY tea in the morning; the feel of the stick smacking MY leg; the scrape of noise and sweet-smelling leering taunting sicked-up squeaking fingernails inside my skull. The endless minutiae of the moment the first one of them lokoed me in the face and killed whatever was inside me. THAT is the universal. Tell me why you’re like me and you build a wall. Tell me only about you and maybe you’ll knock it down. As artists we can only seek somehow to recreate externally the internal shriek that is the only truth of being human.

And I have a feeling it’s being confronted with that truth, one they’ve spent their lives concealing, that makes people so uneasy about confessional art.

Any lessons to be learned? Sure. For the artist – as with so many things, stop analysing and do. For the audience – every time you tell someone they’re a fake, there’s a context. There are implications. For the would-be censors – as I said in my original post, feel free to remove your faces from my art, but I will not remove my art from your face.

~ by yearzerowriters on March 6, 2010.

71 Responses to “I HAVE to tell you Something: the Truth about Confessional Art”

  1. All art is confessional in the sense that each individual art work emanates from the creative mind of the artist (let’s leave collaborations out for now). The ideas may originate externally, but once the artist starts bringing their own faculties to bear on the work, it is ineluctably informed by their sensibilities and senses and theirs alone. It is therefore merely a question of how they present their own outpourings – raw and in the face of the audience, or with certain distancing techniques, such as the use of characters in a novel.

    So this comes down to presentation to me. It only becomes more divergent when the artist becomes attached to the work in the eyes of the public, through personal appearances, readings, interviews, stories in the Press. Then the audience might feel they have more material to play with to decide whether the work is the undiluted artist writing about their lives on a 1 to 1 convergence with its reality, or whether they can acknowledge that the artist is little like the work when they appear on a stage in public. One problem I have with this aspect, as demonstrated by the YBA, is that the living out of their lives in public actually became more important and gathered more attention than the works themselves Damien Hirst, La Dame Emin (Eminterius Professor of the Confessional). Whose fault this was is irrelevant.

    So I think the separation you’re making is artificial. Where I rabidly disagree with you is your contention that the only legitimate human expression of truth is the shriek. On one level I agree with you; I think the majority of people in the UK believe they are from normal family backgrounds and are well-adjusted, whereas I think by any reasonable definition of ‘sanity’, such undamaged people are in the absolute minority and most are just deluding themselves. This leads on to a further point of convergence between us, the illusionary nature of reality that people hold as a consensus that binds them all together. Superficially this argues against your point of private hells, but of course my drive is to tear such scales away from the audience’s eyes to make them realise they are alone and atomised as individuals. Maybe it’s this self-comforting illusion that provokes the opposition to confessional art you write about. But while is consoles and people order their lives around it, people do have some sort of glue that holds them together, so no matter how flimsily rooted, it does go against your belief that we are only united in the shriek. If we can pull down those walls of Jericho, then that really would give them something to shriek about. They would be more naked than the confessional artists who have at least had a lifetime of draping their art around them

    Freakshow worked for me, without knowing much of the background you recount above. It spoke to me in its own terms, not because it was self-advertising as Confessional. Yes the approach you took to it, born out of a need to confess, sculpted its form and authenticity so that it could speak to me. But I didn’t need to be informed that it was an absolute truth of your personal history in order to have any richer an experience of it. So I guess I’m saying one doesn’t have to broadcast something as confessional, just let it stand or fall on its artistic merits.

    As to the persecutory voices, I think all artists have those, but not all feel a compunction to battle them (which maybe just a case of volume and wavelength). I like to feed and indulge mine. I choose to battle them not at the personal, confessional level, but at the level of language and cognition. These to me are genuinely universal (and yes I am attacking them in my predictable fashion). I am not confessing anything more than an artist who uses anything they have in their brain for their work, I most definitely distance it from the everyday person I perceive myself to be, but I insist it is an attempt to engage in the universal that your conclusion denies I could ever possibly seek to bring about.

    marc nash

  2. “Where I rabidly disagree with you is your contention that the only legitimate human expression of truth is the shriek” I’m not sure i actually said that, did I? I used the word shriek but I think I done did the context thing to make it clear what I meant was that human reality is percept not concept – that is what I mean by shriek – that immediate perceptual experience. Of course it takes all kinds of forms (indeed I believe my statements about the absolute truth of the differently subjective truth were designed to say just that), including calm, but the substance is aways the same.

    I think you’re saying the same thing as me about atomisation – I am certainly saying that any attempty to build bridges is doomed to failure at a theoretical level (although it may be incredibly useful – we COULD not have evolved, for example, unless we devised systems of categorisation, but that fact does not give those systems a basis in reality). My point is that its our absolute aloneness that is the only source of binding people together.

    Only on what you say about freakshow do I think you’ve missed the point of what I was trying to say – your point is, of course, right. But the confessional elements of it have value for me as an artist – I very much want to communicate (I think I have laid down why), but that level is valuable to me, and I think that’s what people miss about confessional art – it’s not all about the audience’s aesthetic response – there’s a part of it that’s life or death for the artist and that, to be crude for a second – doesn’t give a fig about how it impacts. The artists doesn’t give a monkey’s if the confessional element adds value for the viewer – it may just save the artist’s life. That’s also, bizarrely, the paradox I’m trying to draw out, that it’s this utter disregard for the receiver that will give the art absolute value to some who view it. But there’s always that element of absolute subjectivity, which is what I mean in my headnote against Foucault – we who make the confession are using the confessor as much as the confessor/audience may get a rush form our confession.

    I don’t at all seek to deny you should seek to bring about the universal (that is what Kant says, and whist much of what I’ve written could be taken direct from Kant on self-emptying [taken in turn, direct from Luther on subjectivity], when Kant says “ought implies can” he’s just wrong). I think that art always tries to bring about the universal (as I’m sure I stated) bvut i think that its very attempt to do so is self-defeating, if immensely valuable. To conclude I will go back to Kant, and Sarah’s great post, it is only by absolute emptying of categories and attempts to connect that we stand any chance of succeeding in connecting.

    • >> utter disregard for the receiver that will give the art absolute value to some who view it<<

      ECH, NO!!!

      that's what i posted about a couple of weeks ago in "Self Gratification" writing. and we say it here all the time: writing is for readers.

      if we confess too much, as sarah says below, then it becomes, well, confession, and not literature. if we are so lucky to be talented enough to enable those confessions to manifest in artful ways (in which the context of crazy-in-thine-head doesn't necessarily have to bleed through the pages) then the confession is a successful literary transition. and maybe even a psychological outlet as many of us use it to be.

      i'm commenting as i read, so there may be more!
      (ugh sorry i missed this "live" today."


  3. Totally take your point about the crucial function confessional art performs for the artist, but I don’t think you can dismiss the audience entirely, otherwise why not just write journals to disgorge the build up? Don’t think you can have it both ways, to call it Confessional and Art, it has to serve both parties in this transaction? There has to be added value, or it ceases to function as art. Again I accept your prioritising that first it has to serve you the artist, just not to the total exclusion of the other.

    I simply cannot accept that stripping away everything to a pure, naked, unadorned man unites and bonds us all in our nothingness. I don’t believe there is any essence there at all. Pain is still individual and subjective. The fact that we all feel it in our own degrees does not unite us in that pain.

    Yes I think we do agree on atomisation. No argument there.

    Um and I quote, “nothing but the absolute truth of our individuality, on the simple perceptions that stream through our heads, on the pre-cognitive scream inside us, we zoom in total clarity on the one thing that DOES bind us – whatever its content that indescribable, inarticulable scream is the one thing we all share” – I think you were saying there is only the scream that binds us…

    marc nash

    • That’s pretty much THE great debate between Rationalism and mpiricisnm that’s been waged at the very least since Aristotle and Plato – when we’ve finished stripping away, is anythnig left? The Rationalist says yes, the Empiricist no.

      “Scream” is meant in a way that one of those trope words describes – the one about the part standing for the whole. I mean raw percept.

  4. (this does a little rabbit trail, and I’m sorry if it’s rambling)

    By these definitions, everything is confessional art. “The only person who knows if a piece is confessional is the artist.” That’s pretty broad. I mean, if you qualify it by the emptying the mind properties and the ‘needing to be said’ sort of thing, that’s everything ever written, right? Everything becomes confessional, and everything is personal and there is no objectivity. Thus it is a useless name and can really only be used to define the cathartic, literally confessional work. (Like Plath, I guess, but don’t quote me on that)

    I understand the way you’re seeing the connection of humanity, the attempt to convey commonality emphasising our differences, but I think you’ve got it up-side down. It’s the emphasis of MY that turns in on itself and makes a barrier. How does something so concerned with the self have any room for anyone else? Yes, you can connect to some people with some experiences, but I don’t want to hear about the self, not in the name of connection. Maybe the author is connecting to the reader, but is the reader connecting to the author, or just sympathising or empathising? True, that’s some form of connection, but is it any more than what we do with a character in a novel? If that is all one gets from the reader, they might as well not ‘confess’ and go on in pure fiction.

    Then again, as I’ve said before, it is the honesty about the self that connects to each other. So there’s a point there, but it cannot be all ‘shocking truths’. If it is all about shocking truths, you can keep it. It’s attention-grabbing and I won’t have it. It’s got to be a sacrifice, quietly put down, not shoved in your face to get a reaction. Aren’t we trying to connect to each other for the sake of love? What else really drives it? Why in the world would we connect if not through a love for others? Sure, maybe loneliness gives us a longing for connection, but if it’s that, we’re connecting for attention, and that’s when you can fall into the pit of sensationalism and attention-grabbing.

    Of course, the connection I try to do with my work is about removing the loneliness for others, to show that we are the same. It all sounds so lovey-dovey and stupid and hippy-like, but it’s true. To think that you are not the same as others is egotistical and so dangerous. It creates prejudices and biases and sets us against each other. It feeds the self and makes no room for others. Confessional art, if it really wants to connect, must be about the removal of the self, in some way, or it’s not working properly. It becomes cathartic art.

    • Absolutely not all “shocking truths” – just all truths. And the point is it’s not done in the name of connection – that’s what makes things false.

      As a for example, your desk tour was ful of just the kind of detail I’m talking about. And I felt part of that.

      I agree entirely with your last paragraph, except for the last two sentences. There’s a paper needing to be written that goes way beyond the debate started here – and it’s to do with somehow bridging the divide between the absolute need to connect and the fact that one cannot do that except through the specific.

      This is the trio of things needing a balance I’m not skilled enough a philosopher to provide:
      As an artist I want to reach out and tell people they’re not alone
      As a theorist I can’t deceive myself that it’s possible to do that by trying to talk about commonalities (much as I’d like to believe that’s possible)
      As a person I need to remove the contents of my head from my head

      I have an intuition the three of these are linked. As the tags and the comments have indicated I think some combinnation of Kant, existentialism, and the Kyoto School, but going beyond them, are the key. But I don’t know how – which is why it’s important to debate.

      • a sort of unified human field theory you mean? The problem with that is things are still defined in terms of a singularity, a single essence. Sarah posits love as possibly fulfilling such a function. I have my doubts about that, but cannot really offer any other singularity. There again I’m not a great believer in essence and singularity, I think I’m an out and out relativist.

        marc nash

      • my desk tour was a joke. I was bored and I thought some of you would enjoy watching me in all my ridiculousness. That video has absolutely nothing to do with any of this. I am so confused now.

        The thing is is that the removal of the self can only be done in concentrating on the self. (This is a HUGE point in the Eden Bird, and I wish I could just paste the whole thing here. I also wish I had finished it. Anyway.) No matter how hard we try to be selfless, its still done through the self and with knowledge of the self and possibly for the benefit of the self. We can’t really rise above that. Paulie will be talking about this in the audio interview I’m doing (today, actually!). We’ll see how eloquent he is!

        So in some way our theories bleed together at the edges.

        I agree with the three points. And they’re most definitely linked.

        • YES!!

          totally with you.

          we have to know ourselves first in order to squeeze bestest art out of our skin. when we recognize our emotional limitations and our skill limitations can we only begin to build a foundation for work that will be seamless, compelling, and NOT SELF SATISFYING. it should be self-satisfying, for the author, but our duty is to our readers. if we’re not doing it for them, we may as well be masturbating in the bathroom.


      • “The thing is is that the removal of the self can only be done in concentrating on the self. (This is a HUGE point in the Eden Bird, and I wish I could just paste the whole thing here. I also wish I had finished it. Anyway.) No matter how hard we try to be selfless, its still done through the self and with knowledge of the self and possibly for the benefit of the self. ”

        You see, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

        What I mean about the desk video is I totally relate to it – but that’s because it’s all you, not because you’ve tried to make it accessible.

        You know, there are art forms that focus on detailing every specific detail, and I wonder if there isn’t something in that for this – I know video artists use it as a way of disrupting how we think about symbolism and metanarrative (I wrote something about Steve McQueen’s Deadpan in one of the papers in the back of Songs…).


    • Yes, I think I am just a Rationalist in these things, with all the flaws and weaknesses that implies. It’s why Sartre and Kierkegaard caused me so many problems – i have anagging feeling they’re right.

      • You relate to finding cut out pictures of babies in your notebooks? Ha ha, good to know it’s not just me. Because that’s still a huge mystery.

        You lost me with that last bit about specific detail. I think I get it, but I could be wrong.

      • Yeah, I get that my desk’s full of weird shit I have no idea where it came from.

  5. Reading all of above sent me running to my sketchbook from ’07 to dig out this quote I wrote down from Neo Rausch: ”’validity’ comes down to the extent to which the uniqueness of the artist’s psyche can establish a permanence of form & meaning in the actual work.”

    • I love that – and I love that you have a sketchbook with stuff like that in even more.

  6. You’ve reminded me, by telling us how badly wrong things went for you at school, how trauma can haunt us for years. When I was a boy, my father’s generation rarely talked about their experience of combat, other than to recycle patriotic myths – Britain Can Take It. As they got older, some of those strong, silent, buttoned-up servicemen broke down and wept at the things they had witnessed or been forced to do. So it is for us. For many years, I struggled with memories of one particular cold turkey. When I was 17, I was dragged down The Block and banged up in a padded cell for 6 days. After that I was incarcerated in the back ward of a rural lunatic asylum for many months, until I escaped by hacking the wood out of a window frame – all of which was purged from my memory by writing Glimpses, which has autobiographical elements.

    You raised the question why people react strongly to confessional art, and suggested it’s partly about making the private public. I don’t think that’s the full story. After all, the public has a great appetite for certain kinds of confession – ‘I shagged Jordan on her wedding night’. It’s when the confessional challenges officially sanctioned myths it becomes objectionable. As a kid, I was engaged in a war over my identity with the agents of control. They sought to categorise me, and impose a diagnosis and inferior status which would justify abusive treatment (essentially what happened to you at school as well). I fought back with my own version of who I was. Whenever people challenge the labels – typical manic-depressive, alcoholic, schizophrenic, psychopath, whore – they weaken the power of the stereotypes, and the ability to control people’s lives.

    The nature of the private realm is essentially contested. That’s why the Church evolved a way of controlling its expression, through the priest in the confessional, interpreting experience, naming, proscribing.

    You always write such thought-provoking posts, Dan!

    • Larry, yes, you’ve raised the elephant in the room with the celeb confessional. I think you’re absolutely right in that people lap up that kind of story because in it the audience is in absolute control (it really DOES fit Foucault’s power analysis). I think we really se the tension whena celeb refuses to play that game and plays another one – the shocking treatment of John Prescott’s revelations about bulimia, for example. The audience is used, in these cases, to knowing what to expect (you’re right, there are very fixed myths and stereotypes, rules we expect to see followed) and are confused when they aren’t fulfilled – maybe that confusion and the swing of power balance is what causes the hostility.

      I wonder if things have really changed in the Services – in particular thinking about the Balkans, and the attrocities witnessed there – I wonder if we’ve really created an atmosphere that’s not storing up nightmares any more.

      • I think things are changing – I don’t think you’d get a million boys marching slowly across no-man’s land towards the machine guns, as you did at the Somme. Similarly, enough brave souls have risked ostracism and talked about psychosis for attitudes to begin to change – but newspapers work quite hard to satisfy expectations, so you still get stories about nutcase axeman.

        Modern myths have to be created and maintained. A favourite confessional is Celebrity Addict – descends into living hell, hits rock bottom, discovers the 12 Steps & is redeemed (from drink, drugs, sex, gambling or whatever). But this took years to establish – Hollywood made over 600 films about addiction, from the 1930s onward. Some were the biggest hits of their day – Lost Weekend, Days of Wine & Roses etc. But AA had a deal with the major studios and there were 12 Steps advisors present whenever problem drinking featured in a movie, to make sure they got the story right. Nowadays the man in the street understands the message – there is a disease called ‘alcoholism’ and the only cure is abstinence through the 12 Steps. It’s become common sense, and research results showing that rehab may not be the most effective treatment do not make a dent in a million dollar market. And confessions that depart from the Celebrity Addict script are not so popular.

        • drawing back on foucault for a brief moment, we should continue to remember that confession and voyeurism deeply imbue one’s own sense of self. aren’t we just a tad those who we watch? because we don’t just watch, we experience.

          if an artist (tormented or not) can achieve that effectively–enabling the reader to experience rather than serve as a spectator–then that artist has achieved literary nirvana.


  7. […] I HAVE to tell you Something: the Truth about Confessional Art « Year Zero Writers […]

  8. “Why does confessional art save lives? It’s not about catharsis or redemption. It’s more basic and brutal. It’s the closest you can get when the pressure in your head is at bursting to taking a knife and cutting out a chunk of your skull to make the noise bearable”

    This is beautifully put, Dan. Although I don’t think anything really makes the noise bearable. But you have to try or you’ll lose it completely. At least that’s how I see it. I do believe what I said, I do believe there is no way to leave this shit world a better place. It’s never going to be a better place. All that’s left is to tell the truth, so maybe, somewhere, someone will say “Thank you, I couldn’t say that myself.”

    For me, the truth hides in fiction and is just as powerful as the non-fiction. I do think celebrity culture has ruined everything. We are living in a society of non-culture, of throwaway art that’s just style and no substance. I can’t remember the last time I was really blown away by anything. I tend to read and re-read the works I loved, because nothing new is any good. I have read Blood Meridian so many times now. But I hope there are still artists sitting by themselves and trying to make sense of how they feel. I’m not sure there’s any room for them anymore, but I hope they keep at it anyway. I’d hate this generation’s legacy to be Dave Eggers and Katie Price.

    • The tragedy is that there IS room. It’s like Larry said though – the myths are just so strong that no matter how much the room in people’s haeds and hearts, the mainstream is never going to open a space. So we have to look elsewhere.

  9. And then there is Banksy. At first nobody knew who he was, but his art still spoke to many. Then some tabloid hack outed him. Now nobody cares who he is and his art still speaks to many. He’s about as anti-confessional an artist as you can get.

    But of course you sort of cheated in your article by throwing all art under the definition of confessional, whether it is confessional or not. The accepted definition of “confessional art” appears to have something to do with the artist as a celebrity. In other words, the personality of the artist is more important than the actual work created. The art cannot stand on its own but only has value because of its association with the artist.

    Because I’m still thinking of confessional art in terms of the definition used by most people (and not the one used in your article), I can’t get behind it. I’m sick of “celebrity” culture. I can see it eroding art at every entry point the way MTV eroded ugly-yet-talented songwriters and replaced them with beautiful-yet-mediocre acts.

    “And I have a feeling it’s being confronted with that truth, one they’ve spent their lives concealing, that makes people so uneasy about confessional art.”

    To be completely honest, the thing about confessional art that makes me uncomfortable is the thought of seeing celebrity culture do to the novel what it did to music. I picture myself standing in a bookshop and having to choose between books written by good-looking people who played the media but can’t write for shit.

    Furthermore, you describe confessional art as “failing” when the artist kills themselves a la Plath or Cobain. I disagree. I think confessional art fails when the audience realises that the artist is too self-absorbed and not as interesting as s/he likes to think.

    • Yeah, there are misdefinitions, I know. Most of the articles I found online started and finished with Foucault, though – and that’s a pretty good kicking-off point. Certainly I’m not saying all art is confessional – I don’t think I said that. Most art seeks transcendence – not introspection.

      Daisy – I’d love your opinion on this para: “Furthermore, you describe confessional art as “failing” when the artist kills themselves” – you misunderstand me. I don’t mean failing as art – I mean failing in its role as lifeline for the artist. There are some people who are just too fragile for this world, or for whom the noise is just too great, and nothing can keep them alive (that’s just a fact, not making any judgment whether their being alive or dead is better for them – that’s not my place). There are some for whom art DOES keep them alive. There are some who turn to art in a desperate attempt to fight the noise, but they just can’t. That’s how I think of Kurt – and to taht extent, as confessional art, it failed. Why it failed who knows. a romantic side of me would say these people are too transparent for this world because half of them already lives on another plane, and that’s where their art comes from. Most of the time I just think some people are born able to cope with more than others, and taht’s the fucked-up way it is. And other times still it seems as though every sound in the world rounds on just a few, victimises them, and hounds them away, whether IT can’t cope with THEM, whether it’s just the result of some non-linear wave pattern of vindictiveness, or whether that’s just the way things are.


      • I completely agree with the transparent artist, as you say, the ones that have half of themselves outside of this world. I’ve been thinking that since I was 15 or so. “Don’t think I’m all in this world, don’t think I’ll be here too long.”

      • That metaphor came to me from two weird places – a scene in the movie Sophie’s Choice where Sophie is still incredibly thin from the concentration camps and she gets talking about Emily Dickinson. And an interview with Michael Stipe about his attempts to collaborate with Kurt in an attempt to give him something to live for.

    • A-HA! so marcella has reached the conclusion we did on the self-gratuitous blog post: when someone thinks they are more interesting than they actually are. and that would be, to daisy’s point partially, dave eggers post-heartbreaking. before and during heartbreaking he was conveying (confessing) truth. and then he wasn’t anymore, it was fluff.

      it’s that jump that can be avoided with self-reflection–just enough to know when to stop.


  10. Marcella’s comment about the celebrity confessional reminded me of why I don’t agree with the ‘confessional art’ title. Labelling it as such puts an emphasis on the author/artist BEFORE even considering the work. It is defined by the action of the artist, focusing on the person instead of the work. Most other labels seek to define the work, and it’s unconditional of the person behind it. Instead of, say, photographic realism or literary fiction, we have ‘this is the artist pouring out feelings’. And you’re still left wondering what the heck it is you’ll run into. All you know is something about the artist, nothing about the work.
    And of course, for someone who’s trying to remove their name from their work, this is counteractive.

    • It’s yet another inaccurate but necessary labels. I’m talking about the type of art, not the label though. I’ve never called any of my work confessional art, for example, but I’m including it in the discussion. And this is where I think you & Marcella have slightly misunderstood me. We’re discussing what I’ve called confessional art, but in order to be confessional art, no one need ever know that but the artist. Sure it may emerge as people question their reaction to a piece, but the art comes before the label. It’s just that sometimes for the srtist, the confessional bit comes before the art.

      • So if the truth of the confessional art is a secret to everyone but the artist themselves, why even discuss it? If you’re never going to call anything confessional art, why give it a thought? I can’t see how these debates matter very much. Outside of the needing to know impulse some of us have, that is. I guess it’s entertaining?
        But I am a proponent of being blissfully ignorant. I am more than okay with leaving things a mystery.

      • The discussion was first prompted for me by the violent reaction of people to Tracey Emin’s work, and has been reignited in the context of violent reactions to art again and again. I think it’s essential on the one hand to make the case that people have the right to do it – people glibly tell others to “get out of my face”, or say that some forms of expression are inappropriate,and for me that’s an issue I want to bring into the open; and on the other hand I want to point out that it’s through this kind of art we really DO have the possibility of connecting – because if that’s what people are doing, and I think they’re doing it wrong, I think it’s good to have a debate about it – the label might not matter but there are issues that really DO matter. Kind of goes with my campaigning, I know, so I get overzealous, but being part of the “mental health difficulties” community, I’m constantly told that I have no right to express who I am – and to me that’s just a very dangerous thing to say to someone. And when you put an issue on the table, all kinds of other issues pop out sideways. So it’s not about entertainment, it’s one of the few debates in art I really believe is about life & death.

  11. Dan, I see it this way: I do agree that when the artist kills themselves, their art as a vehicle for confession has failed, because it’s not enough. Personally, I don’t think it can ever be enough. I agree some people are more able to cope with this piece of shit world better than others. And yes, I agree with the idea of the person who is half here, half somewhere else.

    Let me bring up my favorite artist here: Isidore Ducasse. Breton made an interesting point atthe beginning of Nadja, where he talked about the artist being more interesting than the art. How he didn’t like Flaubert, but liked the motives behind the work being as simple as “wanting to express the color yellow.” I’m behind this, too. I like to learn these things.

    But what he says of Ducasse, that he may be te only artist who has ever disappeared behind the work completely, is both true and not true. Yes, we are left with the pseudonym Lautreamont, who wrote this staggering masterpiece of evil. But it is also only be learning that the artist himself had planned a follow up to be a masterpiece of good, only then can we put into brilliant perspective what he was trying to achieve and by doing so we realize that he didn’t disappear behind the work at all, but moreso, he became the work. The work was such a confession that it became an inextricable part of him and we can no longer tell them apart. That, perhaps is the ultimate goal, and that necessitates that we learn not only about the work, but about the artist, too. Consequently, he died at 24. The kid managed to leave the greatest work of literature to the world before even being 25.

    re: the mainstream — at some point, we have to blame ourselves. We, as a society, control the media. We control it through what we consume, what we react to and what we talk about. To that extent, the mainstream is merely a reflection of ourselves, albeit a Dorian Gray-esque image to behold. It’s uncomfortable, but we only have ourselves to blame.

    • I can’t disagree with any of that.

      On the last part – that’s EXACTLY why I think we need people to champion great independent art, to show people it’s out there,and see if there’s an appetite for it. It’s why I don’t thin we should hide our books under our beds. Sure people may still not respond, but unless we do tell people what we’re doing, they sure as heck never will.

      • agreed, but sometimes (often) I feel like one of those physicists sending messages into the void, never knowing if there’s anyone reciving them.

  12. Dan –
    (we need replies to nest more. This is ridic.)
    I think why I may not ‘get’ this is just due to generational differences. I don’t think my generation has any trouble with the confessional or the expression of the true self. Then again, I’m a californian and we (honest to goodness) carry around shocking stories in our pockets to impress other people. Maybe it’s not truly a californian thing, but that’s the name it’s given. It’s the hollywood in us, eh?

    I guess I’m supremely lucky because I’ve never had anyone tell me I can’t express myself in any way I want. Then again, I am good at intimidating people, so maybe they thought it but knew I was going to do it anyway and that they could shove it. Not that I’ve ever done anything to ruffle anyone’s feathers. I don’t really reveal much in my writing or artwork. I don’t talk about my mental illness, and I never really have. Then again it’s mostly behind me these days.

    I’m not sure if it was my writing that kept me alive in my teens. I don’t feel like it was, but thinking back it might have been, at least in part. I do remember writing out extensive instructions for my friends on how to finish my novels for when I finally killed myself. Obviously, that never happened. But I’m not sure if it was because I wanted to finish them or . . . if they sustained me in any way. I really don’t want to put that much emphasis on my writing. For some reason I never want my writing to be a real part of me.

    • There’s a widget in the dashboard to control teh nesting level if I can find it – or if you know where to loko, go for it!!

      I think it may be geographical rather than generational.

      Yeah, the way your writing and you relate, or often don’t, is an endlessly fascinating interplay. The same with your art. A lot of it comes down to self-doubt if I’m not mistaken, and worrying about identifying yourslf too much with work you perceive to be flawed, or even incomprehensible.

      Thinking about your writing has got me looking forward to your post
      tomorrow 🙂

      • yeah, I’ll look for the nestinng thing.

        Yes, I do see my writing as very flawed and incomprehensible. That’s it exactly. It’s either one or the other. Or both.

      • It goes without saying that we don’t share your view of your writing, but most of us think it about our own work 🙂

        • True, true.
          I also changed the nesting. We can nest up to 10, so that should be good.

  13. I’ve read the initial essay, but I haven’t had a chance to read the discussion afterwards, so this may come out of left field, but hey that’s where I live.

    It is the job of the artist to define reality. To some, this might seem an egotistical assumption of power. But it is very true.

    What is reality for most people living nowadays. In my country it is overwhelmingly the input received from the media. It is an artificial world, build by commercially sponsored communications. In large part, it is a false picture of the world, designed to keep people over-stimulated, disengaged, and hungering to consume.

    And who creates this media monstrosity: the writers, the composers, the commercial artists, the directors, the actors and the musicians. They provide the substance of our media inundation, and they give it a framework and a face.

    As creators, as artists, we must choose to be responsible, we must choose whether or not we will simply follow along trying to make a living in consumer capitalism, or whether we will endeavor to tell the truth and give birth to an alternative vision. That’s what it is all about.

    As for confessional art (confession smacks of Catholicism to my mind, I prefer the term personal fiction), if rendered with commitment it presents a breath of honesty in a world overwhelmed by false media babble. The best of it has an edge that can cut through all of the hype to present an accurate and moving portrayal of the human condition.

    We also need artwork of vision that can stand up against the mass media and inspire. We have certainly all been moved by such works. They have helped to shape our own view of reality and given us a refuge from the banal and meaningless existence offered by the dominant society. We need more such works, an entire revolution of art to inspire a revolution against this society, and offer an alternative vision of the world that could help to move us into a new age where the old strictures fall aside and each person is better attuned to her fellows and to the world in which they live.

    So let’s get on with it.

    • What he said.

      • Thanks Dan. I really expected to be blasted out of the water as being self-absorbed and having an inflated sense of importance. That’s happened elsewhere when I voiced similar thoughts.

        • Well, there’s been some quite robust exchanges of opinion, and I think I’ve been called self-absorbed too. But I think you’re bang on.

  14. before i even read dan’s incredibly thought-provoking post, as i was scrubbing the tub today with an inexplicable angst, i thought, why the fuck am i angry at the tub? and i was really angry, scrubbing as if it to punish the thing. baking soda up to my elbows, hair up in a clip, scrubbing like a fiend. i was scrubbing AT the tub. i started to relax by thinking of which essay or short fiction piece i would start today.

    and then i thought about channeling this anger–realizing, well, duhr, that’s what will form the engine of my piece: my emotional experience. will i write a story about a fucked-up tub? no. so, to dan’s original point, it is the *manifestation* (right?) of those underlying emotional experiences which inform how and what we write–that is the *truth* (right?) that daisy is referring to.

    to truthfully channel (probably not the right word) into work that is readable, accessible by many (not all), and compelling is success. whether you kill yourself or not shouldn’t matter to the text or the readers, necessarily–if doing so does implicate a deflation of the text, then you haven’t successfully removed yourself from the work in order for it to be, well, “ready” for public viewing. easy to state in theory, i know.

    about the tub incident, though. i also thought more tangentially about the angry/tormented artist and how fucking overdone that is. it’s trite. it’s hackneyed. we all must continue to be aware that readers will exhibit a visceral–well, let’s call it a dismissal–reaction to the work, in a bad way, because the work is tainted with that. the whole “i’ve been through so much and the world is so awful and i am the only one who can adequately break it down for you” just talks down to the reader and it’s transparent. they know. people fucking know how shitty the world is and how fucked up everyone [else] is. tapping into that works, but exploiting it does not.

    as we used to say back in 1994 about our stupid useless ridiculous joke of a harcore scene in nyc, ‘keepin it real, yo.’ but that wound up dead and virtually unmemorable.


    • Being self-absorbed and over-inflated is very different from 100% concentrated self-examination. I think that’s a point people fail to get again and again. Total and unsparing self-examination is actually a self-emptying process, because there is a refusal to protect the self, to consider it worthy of sparing from the rigors of examination. That kind of examination is possible with no other object.

      “i’ve been through so much and the world is so awful and i am the only one who can adequately break it down for you” – yes, that “just talks down to the reader and it’s transparent” but that’s not at all what I’m talking about. In confessional art as I’m laying it out here the artists tells their subjective truth because it’s teh truth, the only truth they have access to. Anything else, by definition, contains a degree of dissembling, and lying has surely got to be more patyronising to the reader than anything?

      • Yes! This is about telling the truth, as the quote at the head of your article says. We deal with reality when lose the ego, cease to protect the self, stop dissembling. That becomes great art – and the more ego reasserts itself, the weaker the art. That’s the difference between Emin’s confessional art and celebrity memoirs. (Like PD I hate the term confessional, because the ritual of confession has been so important in shaping European civilization.)

      • yes, Larry, I agree the term is unhelpful. I used it partly because it’s a term people know, partly because of Emin’s academic title, and partly because I’d intended to talk more about Foucault and the psychology of the confessional than I did – I DO think there is an interesting continuity with the confessional in the middle ages, and that losing the term might make it harder to draw those parallels.

  15. I think the debate is beginning to lose shape. The opposite of confessional art is not celeb biographies. Any artist of integrity writes truth, not all write in a confessional manner. I’m not sure an artist has to sacrifice ego and efface himself entirely – Kafka did, Hemingway, Henry Miller didn’t. Yes if the artist prioritises broadcasting his ego above the dedication to his work of art, then that is going to yield poor art – Damien Hirst take a bow.

    Apart from Dan’s passionate defence of what a confessional approach can yield the artist in terms of therapy/venesection/release – which I consider perfectly valid – I don’t see any need to highlight confessional art as a category of its own – it is one that blurs the author/narrator distance and no more as far as the public is concerned.

    marc nash

  16. I was thinking of the distinction between good and bad art within the confessional genre – celeb memoirs, with few exceptions, being piss poor as literature. As for egotism, we’ll probably have to disagree. Few writers I admire are ego-maniacs.

    • I don’t really like either Hemingway or Miller, I just offered them as the most overt examples I could think of. But the artist who genuinely effaces himself in his work is a rare beast indeed. Most believe we have something to say that is worthy of a reader’s time. And that buttonholing inevitably leaks out in a novel. I agree with Daisy however that it is delusional, since we won’t change the world or make it a better place. Only clog it up with more noise.


      • A writyer thinking they have something worth saying is very different from them talking about their personal truth because that’s all they know, or tehy are otherwise compelled. I guess I go the other way from you, and I’m sure where I see error in your logic you see the exact same in mine – I would say that absolute self-effacing is as arrogant as one can get because it suggests that the author thinks it’s possible for them to climb out of their skin and say sonething universal. Which seems to me to be just delusional. Where I think we agree is on the removal of the “ego” in its negaqtive sense – we just go the opposite way about achieving it – which may well go back to teh earlier point about rationalism and empiricism

  17. I’m too late to this party and really don’t have anything meaningful to contribute – I’m moved by Dan’s post and most of the discussion here has been open and lively and just this side of overt intellectual geekery. I mean that in a good way.

    I think PD’s comment is spot-on. I give the floor to Gerard Manley Hopkins:

    As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
    As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
    Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
    Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves – goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

    Now get back to work.

  18. I’m even later to the party, but i thought Dan’s post nwas pretty good.

    I don’t think childhood or teen confessionals are very strong. The ones that Dan and Larry wrote are “victim” stories to me. Neither of you come out of them as assholes, which i think is important in confessional writing. Mental illness is an easy confessional topic too, for me. It’s something that isn’t your fault in a way, and the only thing you’ll ever get from it is sympathy.

    Daisy writes it well in her books, Babylon and Dead Beat, especially the last one. The main character is an asshole, and it’s better in dead beat as the mental illness behind it all isn’t really overtly expressed, whereas in Babylon it’s front and centre.

    Teen confessionals are writing what you were. Sure, it’s still with you, but if you consider this to be confessional writing then you’ve just taken the beginning step. It is confessional, but it’s the easiest confession you’ll ever write. This is just my take it on though, maybe it’s harder for others, but ask yourself, what response do you expect from writing it? Do you doubt that everyone will be nothing but sympathetic? Look at most of the confessionals here, and no disrespect to anyone, but it’s become almost vogue to say, yeah, i always felt like killing myself when i was a teen. I have more to say on this, but i think it might piss people off if i say it…maybe i’ll come back and add to it later…

    The confessional type that i’ve rarely seen is the adult confession, the admission of everything bad about you now. The things you do that you struggle to find an excuse for, like when Bukowski hit his girlfriend in the bar. There is no possible way to feel sympathy for him, yet you can feel it’s truth. I don’t really get the same vibe from someone like Hubert Selby Jr., i don’t know why. Maybe because i feel he wasn’t scared enough to write what he wrote, so it wasn’t really brave. And confessionals should be brave.

    Also, if you use a character substitute in your novels, like Daisy does then it negates the confession a little. But at the same time it makes it more interesting as fiction.

  19. I may have sounded like a prick in that last post. I just want to add that thinking about killing yourself when you’re a teen can be a valid feeling, but as a reader, it has become a very familiar thing to hear so it becomes harder to believe. So in that case, does it still have any power as a confession? What does everyone else think?

    I wonder why no one ever writes about wanting to live, but finding it almost impossible to do so. Or do they?

    • Just on your point of ‘adult confessional’, wasn’t there an element of that in the piece you wrote about the guy tutoring a young Chinese kid in HK, and hating him so much he threatens to throw him out the window? Some readers were uncomfortable with your piece because it showed a teacher fantasising about offering violence to a child, without an accompanying OFSTED statement about professional standards and child abuse. The word ‘confession’ gets in the way here, because of its connotations of mea maxima culpa, but it reads like the honest recording of negative feelings which are socially unacceptable, and therefore people pretend they don’t ever have. For me, moving away from ego, or the socially constructed self, is about cutting through the pretending in the mind.

      By extension, if someone writes about suicide or self harm without pretence then it still has power, but if the story is given the Spielberg treatment – redrafted to engage our sympathies and conform to expectations – then it becomes false?

      • “For me, moving away from ego, or the socially constructed self, is about cutting through the pretending in the mind. ” Nicely put.

      • Yes,i did write that, and i have felt that in the classroom. Some teachers actually talk about it with each other, but with humour, as jokes. Maybe cos i wrote it without clear humour, it makes it harder to accept? I don’t know, but i felt comfortable writing it. Perhaps there’s more distance between me and the reader than i thought? Could be why Gupter’s dying on its ass.

        • It’s like doctors can share black jokes, and medical students throw dissected body parts at each other, but the general public would be horrified if medics discussed the same feelings with them in an open way? It would clash with the professional image? Your piece got a bit of a reaction like that – I don’t want to exaggerate, but you did get one or two shocked responses?

    • I think I’d disagree with you over mental illness, having just come from a conference on the media and mental illness – much of the time when you talk about it, you’re told to shut up, so it’s certainly not the case you only get sympathy.

      Wanting to live and the desperate struggle to keep going – that’s basically what Songs is about, isn’t it? I’d say theer’s a dangerwith writnig those kinds of narrative, which is that they can come across as “pull yourself together” pieces, which can be both glib and damaging – they need to be done extremely well in order to work – I don’t think i necessarily managed it with Songs, which is why the ending, when Szandi dumps Yang because it’s the only way for her to move on, has come in for a hammering in reviews.

      I agree entirely on the different perceptions of reader and writer, and I agree that there’s a pre- and post-Heathers thing we need to be aware of as writers.

      And I never think you come across as a prick, because I know howmuch you think about everything and how much you want to make your writing, and ours better

      • We’re using “Heathers” as a significant cultural marker now? When did that happen. In what way do you mean it? Wouldn’t Columbine maybe have greater gravitas in an argument if you mean going postal?

        I can’t believe the ending of Songs has come in for a hammering. Do readers expect a happy ending like in the focused grouped to death movies? Give me strength.

        Oli puts it a bit more strongly than I might, but I think it backs up the argument that there’s almost no point in calling anything confessional art. If the artist wants to retain a private knowledge of it as confessional and vitally so to help preserve their mental wellbeing, i have no problem with that – they’re not letting on to the world about it so what’s the difference how they view it themselves?


        • I wasn’t talking so much about the going postal aspect as the “taking the piss out of angsty teenagers” aspect. And yes, I’ve gotta say, I do see Heatehrs as a HUGELY significant film. Try watching it again whilst thining about when it was made. I’m prepared to come in for a lot of flak on that one, but seriously, whenever i rewatch it I think “that’s an interesting post-Columbine” or “post-Craft” film, and then I remember when it was made and it blows me away.

          Oli, thinking about your point about determined survivors – it struck me that the two very strongest examples I can think of were both portrayed on screen by Juliette Binoche (who ironically also played Teresa, the ultimate anti-survivor): Julie in Three Colours:Blue, and Anna Barton in Damage.

          Marc, I got two reviews saying they wanted a happy ending. I said there IS a happy ending, but they meant that Szandi and Yang should have sailed off into the sunset – I tried to point out that would NOT have been happy because she’d have stayed a dependent child that way. I got another review saying the ending overturned all sympathy with Szandi by turning her into a vicious, vidictive whathaveyou. Which leads me to think audiences are very ambiguous to characters who do what it takes to survive (same in fact as the reaction people have to Anna Barton in Damage, and Sabina in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Amazing, powerful characters, but people hate them for it).

          • I’m staggered is all I can say/ But at least people are engaging with your book to open up debate & lines of communication which is great


      • Sorry, man, i’ve only ever read the first chapter of ‘Songs’. Not really my kind of book, i preferred the ‘Man who painted…’

        I’ve only ever seen the sex scenes in the film version of ‘Damage’ when i was a teen. Was there actually a story there? I figured Jez Irons just wanted to get his end away with Jules Binoche. I might go to the library and check it out, if you’re sure it’s got the character i’m lookin for?

        Teen depression is a funny thing. For every genuine one, I’m pretty sure there are nine others that are just apathetic. I have no figures for this, but the people i’ve met in my life, they always tell their little confessions before too long, and i just don’t believe most of them. Something like ‘Heathers’ might have something to do with that. Not the film itself, but the films that it inspired. They made it cool to be suicidal, which is a strange thing.

        Do you really think there’s still people afraid to talk about it? Man, I guess i’ve met a few like that, where i’ve sensed there’s a lot they’re not telling me, but most people talk quite openly. Maybe it’s just the people I’ve met, i’m not sure. But i still think a lot of them are full of shit, it’s just a difficult thing to call someone on.

        • YEah, there certainly was a story. I’ve read the book several times the last few months (by Josephine Hart) – it’s blistering stuff.

  20. I don’t think that all you’ll get is sympathy from mental illness pieces. We who comment here are a small microcosm, and out there in the real world, most people see it as weakness, and weakness is always repugnant in our society. Just the other week, some guy threw himself off a bridge in SF, and people were egging him on and when his body hitting the ground made a thud, loud cheers erupted. I don’t think sympathy is really a problem. Or empathy, for that matter.

  21. Just want to say that I enjoyed your post tremendously. It was a great definition of confessional art and helped me realize that this is what I have been doing as an artist for a very long time. Now I feel the need to keep creating.

  22. Thank you

  23. I am an artist who has been plagued my whole life telling the truth and no one believes me. In fact I have now apparently become known in my locality as a compulsive liar! The reason is this: everyone is lying. Everyone is hiding something. Then I come along and make things awkward for them. I tell the truth. People Don’t like this. They fear me. They still tell me things – I am like their confessional – except I don’t want to know and I’m not a priest. So in order to shut me up after they have divulged stuff to me to get it off their chest, they spread it around that Im a liar. The truth is – I have no reason to lie. I don’t have anything – no job, no money, no kudos, and now no friends. Just an impressive talent for art and my honesty, which people are trying to take away from me. They gather in their pubs, after taking a snort or a tab, and they talk about what a liar I am and they feel so much better about themselves afterwards.

    So my art is about the truth. Call it confessional art if you like. All I know is that, at the age of 48 I am still feeling that anguish and deep pain spoken of previously, born of being the brunt of people’s fear and anger and everything else that I am not responsible for. Mostly I feel like I am carrying the world on my shoulders and have thought and planned and even executed (poorly) of ending ,my life. But I know I cannot if only for the sake of my kids.

    If this writing pisses you off, be careful. It might just be because you feel guilty as you have yourself condemned an innocent person.

  24. […] from a post that originally appeared 18 months ago at Year Zero Writers, and posted now in response to a point raised on The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize review […]

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