The popular notion that artists need to suffer is a threadbare excuse to underpay and exploit them.
[Note: Van Gogh would have suffered a lot less if he’d sold more than one painting in his life.]
The notion that artist need to suffer in order to gain inspiration or have something to say is really convenient when it comes to capitalizing off of them so that a dealer may make more off an artist’s work than does the artist.
To the degree artist’s suffering is self-imposed, that is totally unnecessary. Suffering will find you, and you don’t need to go looking for it. Artist’s don’t need or benefit from alcoholism or addiction of choice. They don’t need to be suicidal or self-destructive. They don’t need to be neurotic, paranoid, bipolar, schizophrenic, abused, margianalized, or underprivileged. You don’t need to be a POC or LGBTQ to be an artist.
If popular culture fetishizes tortured artists or thinks “starving” is good for them, that’s their ignorance and stupidity: artists need not adopt it.
What artists really need is to be strong.
Recent studies have shown that the odds are stacked really high against fine artists having any career at all, and if you don’t get in with a top-tier gallery from the get go, your career won’t last a decade, in which case you will have to do something else. There’s your suffering, and it’s not self-imposed, but is a force originating with the marketplace and those manipulating it. Only their select product goes for astronomical sums, and everyone else is priced out of the competition.
If that’s the situation, and studies say it is, than an artist is like a salmon swimming upstream against all odds, and weakness or somehow being compromised is not going to help.
At this point my honest impression is that the contemporary art world is corrupted and not a good environment for artists. The triumph of anti-art as the pinnacle of artistic achievement should be a comically tragic warning sign. The art world seems to have been hijacked by the ultra-wealthy and more recently by an identity politics/social justice paradigm. If I could go back in time I would switch from being a fine art major to an illustrator. At least there are jobs for illustrators and if you are any good you can have a career.
What I think about fine art today is, to put it bluntly but succinctly: fuck that shit! There are ways around it, and in the future I think artists will be able to sell directly to their audience, and this can take place outside of the institution of art and its various paradigms, all more than a bit poisonous.
When it comes to the fashionable nihilism — originality is impossible, Western culture is a plague, masculinity is toxic, whiteness must be eradicated by any and all mean necessary, painting is dead — I’m through with it. Let’s all hate on the enlightenment tradition in social media posts using our smartphones and the internet which are entirely benefits of the enlightenment tradition.
I’ve said this elsewhere but because modernism wasn’t perfect doesn’t mean that the complete opposite is. Postmodernism should have been an adjustment to modernism, not its insane replacement.
If something tells artists they need to suffer, feel guilty, be weak, sacrifice themselves, give up, step down (ex., because they are white), I say reject that bullshit.
What artists really need to be is skilled, strong, healthy, well-adjusted, organized, resilient, positive, secure and a bit courageous. of course you have to develop your imagination, breadth of understanding, compassion and empathy, but this doesn’t come through being kicked in the teeth and shit on.
Instead of downing your sorrows in that next beer, the artist might be much better off going to the gym. Even typing that right now I’m fully aware of how uncool and weird it sounds. But F that. I say it’s better to feel good, have energy, and take care of yourself than adopt some sort of self-defeating paradigm (including the ones crammed down your by the media these days) and end up a decrepit starving artist.
That is and was probably my biggest problem with contemporary art when I was in grad school. My regular readers are probably a bit sick of me rehashing this, but for you new people, I was expected to make conceptual art “deconstructing my white male privilege”. In other words I was supposed to rhythmically punch myself in the nose with gusto, and then step down so a more worthy person with a more desirable DNA at birth could take my place. No thanks!
Everyone has a right to be healthy, have a good life, and succeed. I think we have a responsibility to our own bodies to take care of them as we would a cherished pet. And if anyone tells you that you don’t deserve to have a good life, they have ill will towards you and aren’t really on the side of the moral good that they smugly accrue to themselves. If someone tells you that you don’t deserve a career in art, in your one and only life, because of your biology, tell them to fuck off.
Artists have just one life, and they’d be much better off fighting the odds than fighting themselves.
6 replies on “Runaway Rant: Artists Don’t Need to Suffer”
and being an artist doesn’t give you a get out of jail card for being an abusive asshole ….
Of course they don’t get special privileges to be jerks! Agreed.
However, I think it’s rather the famous, rich, and powerful that have the get out of jail free card regardless of career. OJ wasn’t an artist. 99% of artists aren’t in any position to get away with anything, and on top of it they now have the ridiculous and pernicious myth that they are abusive assholes projected onto them. I say that if anyone says artists are prone to being abusive assholes, they are an abusive asshole themselves.
if anything, creative types may be less likely to be abusive assholes than people whose careers are built on exploitation (ex., your corrupt politician of choice). Branding someone like me with “abusive asshole” is highly offensive, and my response to anyone who tries to pin that crap on me is “Fuck off!”. All those nasty types of cliches about artists are part of the societal input that causes artists to “suffer”. Gotta’ nip that crap in the bud.
I’m pretty sure you’re an artist, too, and didn’t mean it that way. So, no offense and none taken.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
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Most Mentally Ill people are artists but not all artists are mentally ill (that goes across the board in all mediums not just fine arts) But yeah, no one should feel they HAVE to suffer in order to be an artist. Great post, there are a lot of famous artists that were financial failures in their life but gained recognition in death.
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Yeah, agreed. And you can be an artistic success and a financial failure, and the former is more important than the latter. That may be the topic of my next post. Kinda’ obvious, but sometimes, to my surprise, people don’t see the obvious .
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your libertarian tendencies are showing up again.
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I probably have some overlap, but last I checked I’m still for a social safety net and think free higher education would be a great thing. But, yeah, I even have some overlap with Ayn Rand when it comes to ones right to accomplish something in life (in my case without being anti-altruistic).