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Rated: E · Essay · Arts · #2226309
Eileen McHugh is a book about the life of a sculptor, who left no work.
Eileen McHugh is a new book, a free download at http://www.philipspires.co.uk/eileen.htm

I wanted to explore several strands, the first and most important being the interrelationship between popular and populist, understanding the latter term in its colloquial sense of wanting to achieve popularity, possibly at all costs. I have long found it intriguing why pop music, for instance, is assumed to refer to 'popular' music when something over ninety per cent of releases never achieve popularity on any measure. Probably more than ninety per cent of pop is also not from Tajikistan, but we do not call it Tajik music. Thus labelling things by what they are not could be an infinite process! If pop means populist, however, then it makes sense, because this art form seeks, by whatever means, to achieve public notice, sales, profit and the rest, with the stress on the words 'aspires to achieve', hence the failure of ninety per cent of the genre. This often leads to an artist compromising an idea to render it saleable. But if an artist does not do that, the work remains unknown, anonymous, unexperienced. How much should an artist in whatever form seek to live within the confines of recognisable genre? And is that possible without compromising what the artist wants to communicate? How far can one go along this road before reproducing cliche.

Eileen McHugh is an artist. She is a sculptor. She seeks no avenues of compromise in her work. Her career was short and unnoticed. Paradoxically, one of her works has achieved viral status on the internet via a photograph posted in the name of Mary Reynolds, who now wants to create a biography of the artist and a discussion of her work so that she can create a museum to display it. She has contacted Eileen's mother and has the artist's sketchbooks and notes.
Eileen wanted to tell stories in her work, stories that arose out of the detritus of people's lives, their bits and pieces of discarded trash. Her work at one stage is described as 'off the wall' as well as on it. The form of the book, however, repeatedly illustrates how lives themselves mirror this state. The lives of people who knew the artist become like new works created by Eileen, assemblages of life's discarded bits and pieces.

Another strand was the obsession that drives artistic expression, if the motivations of populism and profit do not apply. Why exactly did Schubert write over six hundred songs when he never heard a single one of them performed before a paying audience? What motivated the composer Mieczeslaw Wenberg to 'write for the shelf'? What drove a deaf Beethoven to communicate via sound?

And why is it that we often feel challenged by art? Is it because we have no idea what we like, and prefer to live in the security of liking what we know? Is it because we only trust things with which we have an assumed commercial relationship, so therefore we trust the transactions being offered?

Paradoxically, by the end of Eileen McHugh, the artist herself is perhaps the person we know the least, despite having been the subject of the whole book! If we do not see people as assemblages of their petty likes and dislikes, any of which might change on whim, what is left? Perhaps it remains as anonymous and unknown as ignored work. Our real contribution to humanity, however, artistically or otherwise, is eventually revealed as that which we give to others. Even tragedy can have a positive outcome.

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