Writing on a chosen book

John Steppling


2016 Mimesis International

This is a refreshingly conversational and down-to-earth art theory book that favours suggestiveness and expansiveness over determined arguments towards a particular conclusion. 

I like to dip into it when I feel creatively blocked or disengaged, and was drawn towards it by the provocative title addressing this feeling. Therein, Steppling presents his ideas about the nature of creativity, art, and its contemporary societal context with frantic cross referencing of philosophy, politics and popular culture. He makes his references cursorily, as if speaking to a friend, and with an unpretentious and often excitable voice. He makes his assertions in the first person and poses rhetorical questions to the reader. One cannot be expected to know all of Steppling's references as they are specific to his interests and particular social background but I find inspiration in certain phrases that stand out in the noise. Examples:

'The facts of the past matter, however…. They return as rats return, as dogs to their vomit.'

'Reading is the spoken word karaoke in your head.'

''Our missing father... the wounds and trauma of childhood are found in the inherent allegorical space of the grotto (or diamond mine, or parking garage, or wetland, or bog)...'

​Steppling talks about mimesis as the primary means of creativity, mimicking the world around us to process it, and says we re-narrate narratives as we view them. I can’t pick one quote to summarise exactly how he defines it, he presents it as a big umbrella. Being a playwright, Steppling focuses on theatre, and expands aspects of the theatre such as its use/imagining of space and time to everything? Personally I find it really refreshing and useful to remember that all artforms and modes of expression can be traced back to the most ancient ones such as theatre and cave paintings. It would be really cool to view different visual elements as being like a stage. 'Art is a recreation of our own psychic formation (memesis) as well as being shaped by its 'otherness' and history... All art contains a narrative.'

The final paragraph counters this in a bold refusal of what Steppling feels to be 'The need to justify the junk that one is fed. To justify propaganda' that he observes in 'the debates in MFA programs on film'. He finishes with a caution to the sort of student that tries to justify the 'boring' nature of their work with a notion of metatextual intentionality: 'Sometimes there is nothing to be hidden. Sometimes there are no secrets.'