Over 30 years ago, I did a Diploma in Legal Studies at the College of Commerce, Rathmines. I rented a room in a house-share with art students from NCAD and Mountjoy Square. Life as an artist was something I’d never have dreamt of for myself, for a multitude of reasons, not least because I lacked talent. But I liked Art and had taken it for the Leaving Cert, my ability to answer the written parts of the exam compensating for my poor attempts at Still Life.
I still remember a photograph of her camouflaged against the front of a building, how she’d made herself blend almost seamlessly into the setting, so that she was swallowed up by it, merged, disappeared.
The art students were making all different kinds of art, and while I wouldn’t have told them in a million years, I didn’t like all of it. One of them though, exuded creativity from her whole person, not just the pieces she created. Even the way she made furnishings for her bedroom with brick oddments and bits of timber (we weren’t renting at the higher end of the market) was beautiful. I still remember a photograph of her camouflaged against the front of a building, how she’d made herself blend almost seamlessly into the setting, so that she was swallowed up by it, merged, disappeared. I don’t know what she went on to do after graduating. Years later, on a visit to Dublin, I noticed her name on a mural on a restaurant wall.
If I saw the art students as ‘Other’, it was, I think, a two-way street. I remember obliging one of them by completing a survey they had to do for college, and how surprised they were that I, a law student, did stuff like visit art galleries. Even with this distance between us, I was regularly enriched by insights into their world. There was, for instance, ‘The Farm’. This was an extra-curricular project kept in the roof-space of one of the art colleges. It was a box containing rotting food that the students would ‘feed’ occasionally, and every so often they’d take it down to see how it had bloomed and decomposed. I never got to see The Farm, but I imagined the terrible beauty of furry mould, browns blisters on the skin of rotting apples, all those things we were supposed to be repulsed by becoming something glorious. Art.
As intrigued as I was by the art students’ world, I had no inclination to join it. My heart and head lay firmly with Law. I remained the outsider looking in. Not a great place from which to make art, but not a bad place from which to write about it.
Danielle McLaughlin is the author of the short story collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets. Her stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Irish Times, the Stinging Fly, and various anthologies. She has won the Windham Campbell Prize, the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award, the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition, the Willesden Short Story Prize, the Merriman Short Story Competition in memory of Maeve Binchy, and the Dromineer Literary Festival short story competition. The Art of Falling is her first novel.