... is to ask, "Why not make art out of your identity?"
I guess this is what Gilbert and George do, and Grayson Perry, alongside their artworks in more conventional media. Their identities are as important to us as their stained-glass, their ceramics: the duo, impeccably dressed; the cross-dresser with an alter-ego, Claire.
Gilbert and George, says Wikipedia, 'refuse to disassociate their art from their everyday lives, insisting that everything they do is art. The pair regard themselves as "living sculptures".' Their work, profiled by the Tate Modern in 2007, defies restriction, but includes, in the words introducing the exhibition, 'raw examinations of humanity stripped bare; ... sex advertisements to religious fundamentalism'.
On graduating from art school, Grayson Perry 'joined the "Neo-Naturists", a group started by Christine Binnie to revive the "true sixties spirit – which involves living one’s life more or less naked and occasionally manifesting it into a performance for which the main theme is body paint”.'' Quote, again, from the big W. Perry links his subject matter to himself explicity in this comment: "Sex, war, and gender are subjects that are part of me and fascinate me and I feel I have something to say about them".
My own medium is ultimately myself. I take the labels I have earned or adopted over the years, exploring them, subverting them, and layering them around me: librarian, married man, gardener, one-time evangelical christian, care-worker, vicar, artist/illustrator, director/ storymaker, and so on. There's something pure about carrying your art about on, and only on, your own person. A challenge, too, when your personhood is as much an aspect of that art as the clothes you wear, or your occupation. More so. Your neural network becomes your medium, the network's plasticity your pen-marks and draftsmanship. Played in extremis, your work is invisible, unless you choose to express it, because it lies underneath the skin.
The work taps into current fascination with avatars and incarnation, role-playing and celebrity life, gender expression, the public/private dichotomy, and attempts by the state, or religious fundamentalists, to pin down identity, to assign economic and social worth to the labels we wear. It links with the cyborg art made by people like Stelarc.
The ultimate expression of one's identity as Art is also, potentially, an act of subversion, because, to take up Gilbert and George's rallying cry, it is - more than paint on paper, or writing groups, or amateur dramatics - Art for All. Everyone has access to their identity: there's no threshhold to cross. What you see of them may be artifice: you've no way, unless they choose to tell you, and even then they might be dissembling, of knowing.
But could one dissemble? Because by admitting this dissembling aspect of myself onto the palette with which I work, I must, by definition, ally myself with whatever lies closer to my core. Closer than any act of falsehood or truth-telling. This roots the artistic act in questions of spirituality and ultimate reality. It's no longer a threat: it's too important for that.
Grayson Perry makes his art on pots, because pots possess, he says, an inherent humility. The bible has something similar to say about people: we are cracked pots. Nice, therefore, to end by taking the hyperbole of the preceding paragraph and admitting that it is spoken by an exceedingly humble piece of earthenware. A talking pot? Now that's potty.