Art is Masturbation.
It’s a sensational, attention-grabbing statement for sure and one that presents an idea that many artists and people who create have probably toyed with at one point or another - is the creative process purely a self-serving, self-satisfying one? Without doubt, creation allows the person doing the creating to express something that might not otherwise have been expressible, and it’s also true that art is most - if not completely - understood only by the person who creates it. Art can hold value to others though and has a remarkable capacity to impact and inspire people long after its creation, yet many artists create despite the lack of any sort of monetary reward being attached to their work. Do these people experience an overwhelming desire to make something, or are they simply addicted to the power trip that creation provides them with?
Calling a collection of poetry Art is Masturbation opens a whole can of philosophical quandaries, leading to a perplexing situation for the reader: is one supposed to accept this as pretentious “fluff” scribbled down by an author whose main goal is to stroke his own ego, or is there some more significant meaning and purpose to the work? In the case of Oregon-based writer Joseph Chiccarelli’s 15-page chapbook (i.e. a small collection of poetry), both questions are relevant to some degree. This is a rather personal work, containing 21 poems that mention specific details of the author’s life and establish him as a bit of a lost soul in a world he feels at least partially detached from. Most of the poems seem to reflect the results of late-night thinking sessions that find the author examining various situations encountered in life and trying to make sense of and come to terms with them. As might be expected then, the work is full of notions of quiet despair, loneliness, and regret, perfectly capturing the ennui and confusion of a post-teenage person.
An insight into the human condition such as the one provided by this book is perhaps the main thing that art proposes to offer the person who observes or experiences it, yet this insight is also potentially the thing that can turn someone off from the creation: an observer simply might not like the message or statement that the creator is trying to get across. That scenario is certainly a possibility with regard to Art is Masturbation, a work that seems all but tailor-made for depressive readers and might not hold much appeal for those with more optimistic sensibilities. Despite – or perhaps because of – the by and large somber quality of the work and presence of so many intimate, personal details, I found myself very much being able to relate to various things Chiccarelli has to say and to the overall tone of the work. Like Chiccarelli, I’ve been stuck in mind-numbing employment, finding solace only during cigarette breaks and after-hours trips to the bar. When the author discusses the strange process of falling asleep sober after too many drunken lapses into unconsciousness during the piece entitled “Welcome to the Woods, I’m a Fucking Freak,” I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Considering the far-reaching (some might say rambling) scope of this work, it might go without say that not every poem here is entirely outstanding. Several passive-aggressive passages alone may make the work alarming for some readers, but a few poems go the opposite route, coming across in much the same manner of a Jack Handey “Deep Thought.” The brief “Love Songs Were Written for Us to Hate Ourselves” and the more lengthy “Untitled 2,” for instance, seem trite and comparatively meager in terms of what they provide for the reader. These generally shallow pieces do have some nice imagery and prove the author can change up his routine but clearly, Chiccarelli’s true talent lies elsewhere. Finally, much as I think the content here is rewarding overall, the author sometimes seems to go overboard in an attempt to “hook” a reader with a frankly outrageous and somewhat deceptive, more or less random title. “I’m Listening to Third Eye Blind and Yelling GO FUCK YOURSELF At Happy Couples” conjures up images for me of a toddler eliciting an irritating shriek as it heaves its own shit against a wall in the midst of a temper tantrum. The level of hostility and aggression in the name has precisely nothing to do with the accompanying poem and seems to be an attempt to snatch a reader’s possibly wavering attention. Honestly, this may not be so bad an idea in an age when many people have absolutely no interest in reading anything that’s not on a computer or phone screen.
I debated for a while whether or not I believe the author was throwing in seemingly-convenient loaded references and situations just to make the whole of Art is Masturbation more dark and brooding, as if he needed to establish some sort of “cred” before he unloaded emotional baggage on the reader. Dying friends in the hospital, suicidal breakdowns, and deteriorating mental health are the building blocks that tales of angsty young people are built on (how many “moody” songs deal with these sorts of topics?), but I didn’t detect an air of fabrication or exaggeration in the way these subjects are handled in this text. Chiccarelli seems simply to be discussing authentic situations that he feels strongly about, and I generally found both his choice of language and the structure of his poems to be appropriate. This collection was very easy to read, having a sense of flow that occasionally added thought-provoking emphasis to specific passages. Though the lengthy final poem “A Fear of the Open Water,” a stream of consciousness reflection on the influence of the author’s stepfather, for me had some similarities to older, more classical sorts of poetry due to its repetition and more concrete structuring, the majority of these pieces had a more modern sensibility to them not entirely disconnected from what one would find in contemporary song lyrics.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a must-read by any stretch and may in fact be a masturbatory exercise for its writer, yet it’s hard for me, as someone who has striven to create art in many forms, to argue against any person having a go at making something that’s meaningful to them, regardless of how other people would view it. Any person has their own life experience which makes any statement they care to make a valid one - even if its not necessarily convenient, agreeable, or politically-correct. The fact that Art is Masturbation was published in the first place is a pretty remarkable achievement for the author, but I appreciated what Joseph Chiccarelli had to say in the work as well. This collection of poems won’t be for everyone and is somewhat rough around the edges, but may just be the unexpected diversion that someone out there has been looking for.
Rating = 7/10
Publisher = GloryKid LTD
Release = April 6, 2015
Length = 15 pages, with illustrations by Andrew Gomez IV
On the Web = http://glorykid.com/shop/GKP001/
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