Droppin’ Knowledge: The Solitary Arts
There’s this fantastic piece by Geoff McFetridge that stumbled onto my screen one night several years ago, and has been stuck in my head ever since. A simple graphic with several different perspectives, and classic McFetridge curves, lines and shapes that reads “The Solitary Arts,” on the bottom right corner. It made me think of all the shy, quiet and insanely motivated skater kids I grew up with. The ones who skated to and from school, every day, skated in whatever suburban excuse for a park they could find during lunch hour. They skated when we partied, built ramps outside of their houses, skated in the garage during our rough Canadian winters, they skated no matter what. I think that’s what drew me to them from such an early age, motivation and perseverance.
Skateboarding has felt like an older, close cousin to me my whole life, always around, always appreciated, always respected. It was the first subculture I found solace in, and it led to my discovery of many other subcultures within music and art. As I grew up with skating, I found myself analyzing those who dedicated their lives to it. I wanted to absorb it — their relentless attempts at one trick, over and over until they either broke something (which usually didn’t stop them anyway) or landed it. It was fascinating. I started taking photos, which were horrendous, but it allowed me to interact with something I was too scared to try. I knew I didn’t have that same gene that allowed me to hurl myself down a halfpipe or try to ollie anything…at all…but I did understand and feed off of their drive.
Photography tied so well to skating, and so well to other aspects of my life that needed documenting, if not for anyone else but me. So my camera moved from skate parks and side streets to concert halls, basements and garages. I realized these skinny, stoner kids were my muses. Metal shows were a common weekend activity, standing on a mini-ramp above a bike shop illegally selling drinks out of their kitchen, with an unknown band breaking drum sticks in the middle. I braved pits and strangers just to feel something everyone else was feeling. I particiapted in something communal, that didn’t require the endless chatting, bitching or primping that the activities targeted at me as a young female usually did. Then graffiti waltzed in, loud, abrasive and oddly familiar. My fine arts professors hated my endless desire to research it, my parents were concerned about my growing collection of aerosol cans, and my friends were excited to see just how many rooftops I could climb without having a panic attack.
These constant small discoveries kept me going, attempting to find new things and new people and places I felt at home in. It all began with a strange discontent for ‘the man’ and is ending with a huge portfolio of experiences. And this wonderful little graphic drawn so many years ago by Geoff McFetridge tied it all together for me – The Solitary Arts. All of these mini subcultures ended up flowing into one consistent thing: we did these things alone, together.
All of these introverted, out-of-the-norm individuals found themselves within these activities. Skating or surfing (depending on your coast), drawing, reading, writing, photograping, writing graffiti, using or making stencils, doing wheat-pastes, poetry, music, video, whatever… these are all creative vices and outlets. They double as equally addictive and cathartic. They start in the confides of your room, your parents driveway, the old railway tracks or a park behind your high school — and eventually, the culture sets in. It finds you and helps you find everyone else with a sketchbook full of letter combinations, fills done with cheap highlighters and whatever black marker you could find in the bottom of your backpack.
Then we share, collaborate, and expand. There’s a very heavy side to the solitary arts; endless frustration, disappointment and self-criticism. It’s nearly impossible to finish a sketch and think ‘damn, I nailed that’, and now as we look to Instagram likes for reassurance, it’s so important to remember these subcultures still exist IRL. When the solitary becomes the communal, when we embrace that we are not alone in our strange habits, something exceptional happens. We get the opportunity to grow. Nothing grows without being nurtured, and these subcultures, these solitary arts, feed our individualism within acceptance.
Photos by Ro Sabourin