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Other Writings > Welcome to art country…

When you get to a certain age, facing a few annoying demons and angry ghosts seems inevitable. 

For me, this involved many, many involved chats with a professional and reading too many books by James Hillman and Carl Jung.  But one thing kept ensnaring the process: the terrible pseudo-clinical language these professionals use and the cultural cargo that comes with it (it’s way too encumbered to be mere baggage!). 

I find terms like individuation and unconscious and psyche become a barrier to what they’re trying to achieve.  They seem to encourage an intellectual engagement rather than an imaginative one.  I wonder if this is in part due to their coinage amidst the goings on in those rooms in Zurich and Vienna, where medical folk wrestled with something much larger than their mere science was able to describe.

James Hillman tried to escape the lingo by using more artistic and rhetorical words like soul and heart, but these words also seem to have roots heading in the wrong direction.  It just sounded empty when I used them.  I toyed with talking about imagination, but that didn’t resonate either.

It wasn’t until quite late in my own trek through all this that I heard the phrase “art country” come out of my mouth.  I was chatting over the back fence with my wonderful neighbour, talking about art, culture, and critical theory (like you do on a Sunday morning hanging out the washing).  I was trying to describe the remarkable experience I was going through, the experience of finally starting to feel (for the first time in what seemed for ever) that I was on solid ground emotionally.  I grasped desperately at empty words like Earth…

Then I said something like “it’s like I’ve found my way back to art country”. 

The words hung in the air between us and we knew without having to say that I’d stumbled on something true.

Once I’d said art country, I knew the word for someone that lives in it is art-fella, a person who must follow art-fella way… even when it contradicts the white-fella ways ground into us from all directions.

Art fella

Art-fella way 

Returning to art country…

words for returning to that place where art-fellas and their ancestors and annoying demons and angry ghosts and those spirits that possess the creation of real art all live. 

Finding these words really opened something up for me. 
They had such an imaginative aptness for this most personal and universal trek I’m on. 
They were uniquely Australian and evoked an ancient far beyond the comparatively modern Heraclitus.

Right words.

There’s something in the way English was co-opted by indigenous Australians that is instinctive, ironic and apt.  I feel these coinages set up the right attitude to it all – precise but not serious (in that stultifying academic or clinical way), profoundly respectful but not falsely inflated, and acknowledging they’re describing something so far beyond mere thought and language.  But that’s really just an intellectual justification of a truth already present that popped up because I needed it.  It just sounds right for Aussie artists to not talk loftily and reductively about process and individuation and psyche and so on, but to chat about art-fella way and a return to art country, borrowing that divine but respectful everyday sort of way of talking about the sacred (without saying sacred) that our indigenous friends teach us.

And, whilst it came out of my mouth, I can’t claim to own it.  Not quite the art-fella way.

If you’re going to use these terms, please do so with the respect they deserve.  
Art-fellas will know what I mean, because walking art-country demands it of them.

Peter Fyfe

Erskineville, NSW, Australia
October 2010

(revised January 2011)

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This page was last updated on 18 March, 2012 .

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