Winter Solstice 2020
Art for the Artist
The biggest problems that I encountered while studying American Literature at university were the textbooks themselves. The anthologies were very academically composed and condensed. For the most part, they were, and probably still are, as dry as sawdust. I did my best to find the best, and leave the rest, but the rest made up about 90 percent of the poets, essayists, and short story writers of the American Literature Pantheon of Esteemed Authors.
They were nearly all East-Coasters. Writers of the West Coast were viewed as that unruly cavalcade of crude wordsmiths who would never reach the stratosphere of those Ivy League Select, the poets who played by the rules of the literati of their era, and sucked up to whoever they had to suck up to, in order to get in with the In-People who decided such weighty matters as which Poet would be reviewed in the newest edition of the Literary Magazine, a type of publication that is now but a dim memory, if it is remembered at all.
(I know that previous paragraph contains a wretched run-on sentence. The U.S. Government would be very proud that Debra, former government Technical Writer, has, at last, mastered Government-ese.)
The world of writing has always been stratified and shamelessly hypocritical. To learn by the age of twenty, as I did, that your Heroes in Composition were sell-outs to get their names in print . . . well, it was a severe blow to my aspirational ego. But such is life, and I moved on with the idea that talent is more important than applause or acclaim or awards.
Not all artists whom I have known thought, or felt the same. In fact, none of them did. One extremely talented painter of ceramic figurines lived for her work to be exhibited in The Museum. Only then could she truly feel alive — and find immortality. I tried to hide from her my disdain for the Exhibition Crowd, but I highly doubt that I succeeded. Everything about me trumpeted the triumph of the Artist over the Professional and Parasitic Promotional Class.
In my opinion, the Museum is the graveyard of great artists, typically of those who did not get their full, if any, due during their lifetimes. The blood-sucking cadre of Museum Curators feeds off of the already-picked bones of the Artist who rarely sold well in his, or her, time here on earth. Vincent Van Gogh is the prime example of the mad suffering artist who never made much money off of his rather unique tableaux — but those paintings went on to fetch millions of dollars long after Vincent was long gone from his earthly woes. (His most famous and valuable works were produced through the bizarre biochemical effects of absinthe and medicinal drugs.)
Pablo Picasso was at the other extreme of the artist-money continuum. He was the Original Pop Culture Painter, an artist who conquered commercialization as an art form. He used whatever he needed to use to fuel his work: paints, women, booze, politics, scandal. Picasso knew how to create a spotlight, and how to stay in that spotlight, one that proved extremely lucrative for this Spaniard based in France. Brilliant and nearly amoral, Picasso dominated the world of art with a prolific output of paintings and sculptures, fed by personal drama. His works sold like hotcakes to the haughty among the elites worldwide.
Pablo really couldn’t draw very well, and so he invented his own forms, mainly cubes, that made him fortunes. Was he any less an Artist for innovating forms that worked to his artistic advantage? Was he less an Artist because of his massive production and massive wealth? Most painters are identified by particular paintings; for Picasso, the color phase, or Period, characterizes the work.
After Picasso, Art-World could never be the same again. He made making money from the Painter legitimate and illegitimate, all at the same time.
One unchanging rule of Art-World is that the works of Said-Artist are always worth more once he is dead. I’ve no doubt there are Museum Curators and Administrators who peruse The Obits with dollar signs in their eyes.
Perhaps I’d attended too many family funerals during my childhood (they were dropping like flies), but I got the same creepy-crawly mortician feeling every time that I breezed through a museum. And I’d been in many of them, starting in childhood, mostly on the East Coast.
My idealistic artist-friend was not fooled by my rigid reserve regarding the grisly fate of deceased artists whose pictures hang on museum walls, earning fortunes for other people, primarily Art Dealers and Museum Top Brass. For this painter, that fate for her creations, The Museum Exhibition, meant her life as an artist had been worthwhile. For me, those financially fruitful kudos came a little too late for the liquidated creative genius.
quipped to her a comment made by my father shortly before he died: “Send the
flowers to me now; I can’t smell them when I am dead.”
She promptly made a highly successful self-advertisement from that quote: Buy Art From A Living Artist; She Doesn’t Need the Money When She is Dead.
Art-World can be a very seedy place to inhabit; the most talented, innovative, even original, artists do not always rise to the top. There is a very thick and permanent layer of commercial interests that likes to keep the business of art in their own hands, at the expense of new, or any, ingenuity. This mercantile arrangement replaced the somewhat symbiotic set-up of Patron and Artist of historic epochs, but even that relationship was fraught with rivalry, politics, and cut-throat competition.
The ugly truth is that the Artist can be among the most cruel aspirants to any throne of recognition. Why? Perhaps the creative spark is part of the will to live. Perhaps the drive to dominate a canvas or a blank page or a melody is the force that keeps that gifted person gifted and going. Perhaps the Artist rationalizes lobbing off potential threats at the inventive-knees as part of doing business, as integral to the integrity of staying alive.
Such viciousness does not exist only among the Artistes. Skilled and highly trained professionals such as surgeons, who, in my opinion, can be knife-wielding artists of flesh and bone, engage in callous do-or-die clashes and turf battles all the time. The battlefield might be the body of that patient — human or animal — that the surgeon must endeavour to keep alive; but the tactics involve ego, antagonism and, in this modern era, the ever increasing tug-of-war between the Surgeon and the enemies of his craft (the managed care monstrosity, incompetent doctors, greedy administrators, the hospital bean-and-blood counters).
Wherever a supremely honed talent is involved, the person possessing that talent, or talents, has a bulls-eye on her front and on her back. Sharpening the claws of survival has to take place, right alongside tending to the tools of the trade. The modern artist must take her own art, just like her own life, into her own hands.
It’s not enough to be a lone wolf or the brave bull; the Artist must also be the bear in the woods.
The kind, benevolent Artist is rare among this group of individuals whose aesthetic goal is to depict aspects of a world that do not exist, or a world that exists more beautifully as rendered through his hands. My artist-friend had schooled herself very young in life, as an adolescent, in the world of art, through attending art school. Her vision was cultivated to follow the visions of famous but defunct artists. She was not afforded the time, or the freedom, to perceive her own images and views of an interior world that begged to be placed onto a canvas.
I approached the visual arts from a completely different direction. I am largely self-taught. The discipline of art, for me, is part of a much larger discipline that I challenge myself to master. She and I weren’t opposite sides of the same coin, but she gained command over her aesthetic élan vital through her acquiescence to the precepts of Art-World. I essentially formed many of my own rules of ingenuity. I never could have submitted my Muse to Art-Classroom, much less Art-World!
And yet, our preferred, our most cherished color palettes were nearly identical. Her sense of composition and mine were very similar, although I possess a very natural sense of design, and hers was academically trained.
The art-world of today cannot move into tomorrow through a purely academic approach. The lofty, and long-established, institutions of higher-learning have degraded themselves in ways that students of even 30 years ago would never have imagined. There’s been no new blood in those dogma-driven bodies for decades! Even at l’École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris, founded in 1817, you pay the freight, or the Euros, and you get in. And from what I have seen, of late, the newest masters are not very masterful.
The Most Influential Museum Curator of the New Millenium is not a perch to which any art-lover ought to aspire. Cataloguing cadavers of the past does not a happy profession make!
When Dear Daughter was at her UC Ivory Tower, studying her Ancient World of Antiquity, the Classics, she informed me, with a wry tone of despondency, that one big field for her major was Museum Curator. The Up-and-Coming Job for Introverts!
Mercifully, she chose to instruct tales of antiquity and Latin terminology in front of The Classroom. I guess she wanted to channel her mother, every day, trying to flee that scene. Adds to the incomparable provenance of her maternal pedigree!
For the truly imaginative individual, the art of art is a sensibility that cannot be taught in the classroom. My artist-friend learned much more about creativity once she decided to become a professional painter of ceramics. She never quite got the hang of capitalism, but I did my best to give her a crash course in marketing. Excellent result there too!
It is back to the drawing board for many a talented individual who sees with her own eyes, not through those of others. The ability to draw, to color, to shade, to fashion and frame a scene in tangible form — those archaic capabilities are experiencing a modern Renaissance.
A quarter of a century ago, CAD, Computer-Aided-Drawing, formed the death knell for many an engineering draftsman, but not for the person who loves to draw. While the Internet abounds with frauds using photo-shop to create canvases, the real artist is out there, en plein air, or in the attic, creating art the old-fashioned way. The artist’s garret is making a real comeback!
I’m sure the Museums are already trying to find a way to exploit those painters, who now need to learn the Art of Self-Promotion. Art for The Artist just might be in vogue!