Review of Art Farm: A Dark Comedy by Marc Dickerson

Sometimes I think of the literary landscape as a sort of ‘art farm’ where creations are formulaically manufactured en masse, racing against a never-ending quota to fill shelves, which after a period of years, become landfills. We build civilization on top of these landfills, until archeologists dig the fragments back up and invest them with far more significance than they ever had.

Most books drown in a sea of other books. The reader is adrift in a tiny lifeboat, and the clock is ticking. How then, does any artist expect to create anything that will last or even be seen by isolated readers, post-flood, gnawing on the torn covers and pulp miasma that sustains the infinite abyss of the human imagination?

In this self-aware critique of the plight of the modern writer and artist, we are treated to a facetious, first-person account of one character’s struggle with the dilemma of self-expression, which is a sort of self-definition, and a paradox, since we can only compare ourselves to other humans, and in doing so, appear a pale imitation of more prominent examples.

Through humorous details, seamless interior monologue ,and a consistent pace, the author quickly establishes the main thrust of the novel, occasionally veering into surreal asides reminiscent of Haruki Murakami’s seedy reminiscences. With a nostalgic appreciation for the eccentrics and weirdos omnipresent in the ‘art scene’ subculture, a catalogue of modern woes presents itself to our narrator. It is garnished with plenty of pop culture and literary references, peppered with dreamlike events, and propelled by an indelible sense of dread – dread of unseen forces, fate, the hopelessness of the future of mankind, our own mortality, etc. The main character goes with the flow, through predictable stages: drugs, overindulgence, and envy, pondering crackpot postmodern techniques, energy poems, and various aids to the flow of creative juices. Pneumonic exercises, free association, and satirical panic-rants also aid in depicting a strong cultural awareness and the bitterly unrealistic aspirations of any self-respecting artist of today. The narrator seems a little old to be engaging in this behavior (but then again, 30 is the new 15 I suppose). Injected with intriguing B-movie style and non-pc forthrightness, the book will pleasantly surprise you or offend you depending on your level of artistic jadedness. The characters let their hair down, air their grievances, and don’t give a hoot about others’ feelings, societal mores, and what sensitive people deem appropriate.

Amid the rampant worship of writers and idolatry of artistic icons, uninhibited expression can shed light on our numbed media-fixated society. Here we have the desire for recognition in a consumerist landscape and the Icarusian death of the artist against the unforgiving void of the Philistinian population of the planet. The perils of cubicle habitation and the thrust of corporate America – how crushing it is to individualistic thought and worthwhile accomplishment. Will art become obsolete one day?

This book expresses the longing for the ideal conditions and mental state in which art of lasting value can be fostered, even if we can never seem to pin down the exact definition of what constitutes true art.