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Private Monuments

[First published in PhotoStatic # 32, September, 1988.]

History tells us of several instances when shipwrecked sailors constructed giant assemblage-works from the items they found washed up on shore. These enigmatic creations were of vast size and intricate design, incorporating all manner of bizarre, randomly-received components.

In more recent times we have all read of eccentrics who have constructed similar works from items found in trash receptacles and abandoned houses. A woman in Detroit recently came to media attention when her construction reached such proportions as to fill her backyard, extend across the front lawn, and block the public sidewalk in front of her house. The city forced her to clear the sidewalk for pedestrian use.

Such is often the fate of the artist.

The urges which move such people to these elaborate feats of creation have nothing to do with "art." They are, rather, found in the area of psychotherapy. Shipwrecked sailors constructed their projects to ward off loneliness and insanity, to fill the long years before rescuers came and found them. Modern-day eccentrics have similar motives, though it is unclear whether they--through their creations--fight off insanity or express it.

In any case, it is clear that these people possess a purer motive for their creation than do most of us who flatter ourselves with the label of "artist." We should pause for a moment and consider the real thing, the person who creates because something burning deep inside of him FORCES him to create.

Perhaps these shipwrecked sailors and urban eccentrics best embody Evelyn Waugh's classic observation: "The artist's only service to the disintegrated society of today is to create little independent systems of order of his own."

--Thomas Wiloch