Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Life Of An Artist

Why does anyone choose to be a professional artist? It is a nearly thankless endeavor, and a solitary nightmare. The rewards are in the creation itself. It is a hard thing to explain, unless one experiences it. To be an artist in America these days is to either be ignored completely and relegated to a substrata just above menial laborer, or to become a walking cartoon, oversimplified and underdeveloped, dancing the little artsy jig to entertain the bored and idle rich.

If not yet established and known, an artist is forced to ham it up, to create a persona that screams “artist” and yet that is refined enough to appeal to the wealthy patrons, who are the only people these days who really spend any money on art. Regular people spend money on decorations for sure, but spending $200 at Ikea to decorate a room is a lot different from spending $800 on a single painting, which is why the world of Fine Art is a lofty one, at least from the point of view of the major supporters. One has to make an impression on these people, people for whom superficial impressions are their very existence. However, most artists are mercurial, self-guided people to whom superficiality is a chore.

The public is fickle, and it wants it's next flavor-of-the-month now. This used to consist of finding and supporting an artist whose work was innovative, fresh, exciting. Now it more and more seems to consist of finding an artist who is an interesting personality, or who has a bizarre back-story, or who comes from the lowest of means, yet who looks and acts and carries themselves in a way fitting with the posh company that is the customer base.

In nearly any endeavor, it is important to present yourself in a manner which will benefit you and allow for others to trust you enough to give you their money. This is just a part of life. To be a doctor you must look the part as well as have the necessary education. To be a cop you have to walk differently than regular people, as if you are always enforcing the law. To be an artist, you need to be able to socialize and converse with people whose educations and refinement are of the highest order. This can be a hard thing to pull off for an artist whose life is spent absorbed in his art. Many artists have issues with social situations which is why they put themselves in their work, and ask that that be judged that way. However, to socially please customers is part of the requirement, even if it kills a little part of you.

You see, the art-buying public is not just buying artworks. They are also buying a connection.
There are many stories of how an artist's gallery will sell a work of theirs under the stipulation that the artist go to the purchaser's home and discuss the work and themselves with the buyer. Some people are just curious and want to know more about you, while others are using you to entertain their friends at a dinner party with conversation. It can make an artist feel like a tool, just as easily as it can make an artist feel appreciated.

Many are purchasing the work of a new artist either with the hopes of owning what could become very valuable in the future, or to gain the cache that comes from being among the perceived elite who are savvy enough to buy valuable things early, before the teeming masses get their mitts on it. An artist truly has little choice as to who purchases their work, and why. The only option available is to not sell the work, which is financially unthinkable for many artists who live off of one or two large sales a year, if they are lucky.

Once the work is sold the artist has to live with the fact that it may go up in a place of honor in someone's home, or it may just get stacked in a closet somewhere. It may be displayed in a horrible frame. It may be destroyed by accident or negligence. It may never see the light of day again. For an artist who has put part of himself in his work, this is a terrible thing to have to live with, but it must be accepted if one wants to continue. The life of an artist seems to be one of endless heartbreak.

Even if an artist gains quick fame the expectations just rise up afterwards. It is never enough to continue in a given vein, not for the art world. They want to see you expaqnd and grow and challenge yourself. These are all code words for "we do not want to see the same thing twice." The art world does not take the time to truly appreciate an artist's work, before it is seeking different work. This gives a premium to an artist like Damien Hirsch who just comes up with a new wacky idea every year and "surprises" the art world with it. It does not, however, allow for an artist to develop his voice slowly, through trial and error. It must be great the first time and every time thereafter.

There are many reasons why one rarely reads about happy, well-adjusted, fulfilled artists. Even the great Picasso was tormented and alone much of the time. It takes balls to choose such a life.

January 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment