I have, on many occasions, experienced the discussion of permanence in regard to artists and their art. Artists and historians often assert that the artist is motivated to create due to the lasting nature of a work of art. I find the argument that a human’s actions are primarily influenced by the reminder of one’s own mortality to be extremely compelling. I find that I can trace many of my own philosophies and tendencies back to my mortality, as I am sure most individuals can.
It should come as no surprise, to those who know me, that I have a bit of a preoccupation with death. My mom often talks about how, as a child, I pestered her with the question of what would happen to me when I died at the age of four, but did not demonstrate interest in where babies come from until I was seven. My childhood very much complied with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in that I was entirely egocentric at the age of four. Naturally, when I squashed an ant that had crawled onto my leg during a picnic one day, I did not see myself as a killer and thought nothing of the murderous action, though when my mother declared that the ant was dead, I immediately associated the incident with the ant to something that had happened to a family member earlier that month. I questioned whether that could happen to me and my mom told me that, yes, I would eventually die. The conversation did not frustrate me until I grew dissatisfied with my mom’s answer to the question “then what?”
This has developed into a persistent fear of my own death. I was raised by two atheists and that certainly has not helped. What interests me, though, is that despite my preoccupation with death and, thereby, belief in the theory that mortality is man’s greatest source of motivation and reason, the idea of permanence does not motivate me in any way. I hear artists talk about legacy as though it is their sole objective as living and breathing individuals. In STAC, I have heard people refer to the deaths of Ray Johnson and David Bowie as works of art.
I find that I fail to see how posthumous success or recognition is at all gratifying. How can it possibly be gratifying if I will not exist to experience gratitude? What the hell is the point? If asked whether I would have liked to live as Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier or Vincent van Gogh, I would not hesitate to say Meissonier. Yes, I would rather be the man whose name my computer, despite correct spelling, is underlining in red than the artist who, today, is a household name. I see a fall from fame to obscurity, if fame is experienced during one’s own lifetime, favorable to a posthumous ascent to fame from a lifetime of obscurity.
My grandmother planted a weeping willow in her yard last year. She has planted seeds in the ground and will never see these seeds come to fruition. I am relieved that the notion of a legacy does not concern me.