Sometimes the most captivating art is created by people who do it instinctually, with little to no idea about the proper structure, or form, or “the way things are supposed to be done.”
There are — of course — official words for the end result. When it’s done with no formal training, those who must classify things call it “outsider art.”
When outsider art is childlike in its simplicity, they call it “naive art.”
“I like those concepts,” says Melissa Ann Sweat, a poet, journalist, fine artist and, since 2008, a musician.
“I think that anyone can make art. You can study it; you can be very technical — whether it’s in music or fine art, whatever your craft — but I don’t necessarily think that that is the best art. It’s one type of art.”
Sweat, 27, arrived in Savannah two months ago, with a suitcase full of ambition, poems and drawings, and a homemade, low–fi CD called Mantic.
Her nom de recording is Lady Lazarus, from Sylvia Plath’s famous poem about a woman who dies, over and over again, and is continually reborn.
That rang a bell with Sweat, who saw parallels with her own attempts at artistic re–invention.
Her music is simple to the point of primal: basic melodic piano figures, over which she sings stark, bare–boned poetry in a voice utterly devoid of pretense or conspired technique.
It’s tonal. It’s minimalist. And it’s strangely visceral.
She makes her local debut Dec. 17 at the Sentient Bean, and has performances lined up at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar and the Wormhole.
A native of San Jose, Calif., Sweat lived in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, and studied literature and English in college. For a while, she had a job writing technical and marketing copy.
A chronic journal–keeper and passionate poet, she had vague ideas about becoming a music journalist, and wrote reviews and features for numerous school papers.
About two years ago, she says, “I don’t know what it was, exactly, but somehow I got this thought in my mind: I don’t want to be a human on earth and not know how to play an instrument.”
So she got an old keyboard and began to experiment. “I just make things up,” she explains. “I don’t know what chords I’m playing. I like to explore and go ‘That’s a neat sound. Let’s see where that goes.’
“I’m interested in ‘What comes out of you? What can you do with this tool?’ I thought of myself as a quasi–intellectual cave woman discovering this instrument.”
She arrived in Savannah at the end of a wanderlusty cross–country train trip. She liked the South, because it was warm — New Orleans was a particular favorite, and she really, really liked Savannah.
“Life is short, and I think it’s exciting to live in different places,” Sweat says. “I can’t see myself, at this time in my life, just sticking with one place.”
She’s assistant–teaching at a pre–school here, writing new songs and poems and looking forward to meeting like–minded people.
“If I’m to align myself with any way of thinking, it’s that anyone can do this,” she says.
“You know, you hear people say ‘Get out of the box.’ Well, I was never in the box so I can’t really get out of it.
“I’m just a fan of it. It’s not a pretentious thing, it’s not ‘This is a cooler way of doing it.’ It just seems natural, and I’m kind of a naturalistic person.”
With Brandon Nelson McCoy
Where: Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park St.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17
Admission: By donation
Upcoming dates: Dec. 28 at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar; Jan. 5 at the Wormhole Bar (with Snakes Swallow Tails)
Artists’ Web site: myspace.com/ladylazarusintheory