When you think of an artist, what image comes to mind? It probably depends on your frame of reference. For some, the word may conjure up images of an intellectual artist all in black, hosting his or her show in a white box gallery in New York or London.
For others, the word means being a perpetual student, never quite satisfied with the latest work, always striving for more. Or to some it means freedom, never having to adhere to a system of thought or traditional workplace. Perhaps to you it is a release of your soul and thoughts into your work. Perhaps you picture a life of near poverty, wearing the same carefully washed clothes each day, living on the unreliable whims of your artwork sales, resigned to the idea of suffering for your art. Or a life of emotional instability, marked by mood swings and monkish solitude that helps you create your most powerful work. Perhaps you think of the academic system in the art world, marked by degrees and positions that validate your career. The truth is, being an artist can be any one of these things, but it can also be a lifestyle that you create: anything you want it to be.
The stories of many well known artists have helped to perpetuate the mythological ideal of “artist”. The one who will suffer for his art. The sleepless, tortured soul who pours her being onto the canvas. The artist who ruins their prospects over a substance addiction, or who turns their life upside down because of their personal passions. We think of Vincent Van Gogh, cutting off his ear to send to a lover. Yes, these are the stories that make artists so fascinating. It’s not just the piece, we tell ourselves, it’s also the story behind the work that makes it so compelling. What happens, then, if there is no dramatic story? Must artists lead wild and tempestuous lives in order to make interesting work? My answer is no, not necessarily. Artists must live life, of course—its ups and downs, failures and successes, but it is better, I will argue, to be happy and creative, than perpetually unhappy and creative. In my view, interesting work should be able to stand alone: without the personal story of what was going on in the artist’s life, the piece should be able to hold up. More on some reasons why in my next post!
For now, have a fabulous day and stay creative! Feel free to subscribe if you don’t want to miss a post.