Recently I attended the Artserve RedEye: Reality Reimagined event in which I had two paintings on the wall. One was called "Reading Proust," which was designed to be funny and make a joke out of the sort of task it is to get through the 10,000 or so pages of his most significant work, In Search Of Lost Time. The other painting was called "Reclaiming The Sanctity Of Life."
Now, during my time studying philosophy at university I certainly came across and thought about a hell of a lot of things. One thing that was advanced after the epistemology module of the degree was definitions. I suppose I'd call a defining characteristic as something that's been with you all your life, or something that has been with you since you were old enough to choose for yourself. I've been a vegetarian all my life, and now vegan for six years. Safe to say it is a defining characteristic. How does it compare, though, to when people say things about an artist like, "It's a defining work"? Well, a defining work as an artist is indicative of best representing your style, method of composition, technique, taste, essence, and artistic prowess. A defining work as an artist has all of these.
An artwork that defines you as a person is obviously different, something that is more personal to the artist than their artistic definition, their personal definition. So when I was at an art event with food trucks without vegan options, with people walking around with pots of cows milk mixed with sugar, crisps decorated in various animal scratchings, and even the popcorn for an area with arty films being smothered in butter (a.k.a. cows milk), it's safe to say it makes one vulnerable and self-conscious when you have a painting you created that defines you as a person in what, based on the surroundings, felt almost like hostile territory. I created such a piece to make people think. If it starts a chain of thought but the viewer is surrounded by options that dismiss the essential message of the piece, then it is safe to say that whatever potency the art has is quickly ended by the surrounding vending options being indifferent to the idea expressed. Especially when I got the initial idea for "Reclaiming The Sanctity Of Life" from an Animal Liberation Front stencil.
It's unrealistic, perhaps, to expect a busy art event to cater to vegans or even to recognise that there's a piece on the wall challenging the ethics of the catering they've chosen being that it isn't food, it's violence and exploitation. So at least a variety may be possible. Needless to say the vulnerability, based on the defining nature of the piece, made my senses more observant and scrutinous to such things. It leaves one pretty conflicted. I hear great comments on the piece as art, and I'm happy for my career that my art is in a venue with so many people attending, and I thank them for choosing to involve my pieces. The only issue is that this is more than a piece of art to me, it is me opening myself up on an issue really important to me. Which feels so strange and out of place in some art and how a lot of people seem to have anything about them that isn't authentic. Needless to say the experience wasn't all positive as a vegan, but as an artist it was. All I can do is keeping bringing the vegan message to my art and hope it makes people and organisers think alike.