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Friday 6.24.05: More Meditation on Masks

Yesterday, on Redesigning I wrote about the outsider artist and novelist Henry Darger, who was the subject of Jessica Yu's quirky documentary In the Realms of the Unreal:

By day, Henry Darger was a reclusive janitor who had few -- if any -- friends. But at night, he became a literary artist with a unique vision. Darger's 15,000-page novel is a wonderland of imagination as it details the exploits of seven angelic sisters who lead a rebellion against child-enslaving men. 

I always wonder about these mad geniuses, compelled to create with no audience. Is their work simply the mindless spewing of a person with a serious mental illness who happens to have a good eye? Or is their productivity what staves off a descent into real insanity? Jumping to conclusions about someone's mental illness seems dangerous. Henry Darger went to work every day of his life till he retired at 73. His art work seems like a grand compensatory endeavor for loneliness and poverty.

If you want to learn more about Henry Darger and see some of his drawings, Sara Ayers has a beautiful page on him.

Logic tells me that masks are what we wear in public.

Darger led a double life, but which life was the mask? The mild-mannered janitor and churchgoer? Or the raging inventor of a complex fantasy world? Logic tells me that masks are what we wear in public. They tell the world who they should think we are.

Some masks tell the world that we are special and powerful -- ritual dance masks, doctor's coats and maybe red lipstick. From the Secret Sharer, who participates in Dunkelfolket mask-dancing:

The mask-tale is a tricky one. When I wear the mask, I'm a different person - content, happy and trusting. Content I have been most times, happy fewer and never trusting. Another dunkel says, that it is like a holiday from yourself, and he may be right.

Some masks tell the world that we are absolutely ordinary, no need to look beneath the surface -- Clark Kent's glasses or Minnie's portrait face.

On the other hand, in the privacy of our studios...

Henry Darger wore the kind of mask that made him very nearly invisible.

On the other hand, in the privacy of our studios, don't artists don masks too? Is that ok, to help sink ourselves into an invented world? Or -- if we were really good -- would we be spending our creative time stripping away all masks in the quest for the Reality beyond?

Hmmm... I supposed the true artist works at both levels: fashioning the seductive mask and still discovering some Truth beneath.





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