Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Myth of the Artist

The Myth of the Artist

The myth concerning what it is to be an ‘artist’ has developed for centuries. During that span of time the image of ‘the artist‘ has become one of mystery and magic… rebellion and inner struggle-- these myths assume that all artists are born with a power that is not present in other individuals, the ability to cause social change with a single image produced a few waves of the hand, and a sense of vision that goes beyond the physics of natural sight. Ask people to describe what it is to be an artist and you will most likely hear or read similar responses. You will be told that an artist is a “highly sensitive soul”, a “soul searcher”, a “seer of truth” among other things. With these concepts the artist is viewed as a modern day shaman or sage… a person that is highly aware of the human condition and the spiritual aspects of life. The question is… why? Why do we view ‘the artist’ as a person with inborn knowledge that goes beyond the comprehension or capability of others?

Many artists have embraced this ideology in that they include aspects of these opinions within statements concerning their art. If you search artist websites you will no doubt discover examples of this. The artist may discuss “the soul of an artist” and how his or her soul is somehow more “pure” or “true” than that of the general populace. He or she may discuss the “burden” of knowing the “truth” about life. The artist may describe himself or herself as an artist of “light” or “dark”. One could say that such thoughts borderline on superstition-- yet millions of people accept these bold statements as an unquestionable reality.

Why do so many people view artists as some form of superhuman? Why do so many artists knowingly or unknowingly attempt to fill that role? Is it our collective need to find something more in the doldrums of life? Have the magicians and demi-gods of old been replaced with how ‘the artist’ is viewed by so many people in contemporary times? What captivates us about an individual who devotes a great deal of time focusing on creativity endeavors? I ponder this.

I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to embrace the dreamlike quality of this image-- I’m sure I have succumbed to this way of thinking at some point when observing exceptional talent or viewing a work of art that seemed to tap into my inner thoughts. However, I am interested to know if others notice the myth that so many embrace concerning how artists are viewed within the context of society. Do you think the myth surrounding ’the artist’ stems from a need to feel some form of void in our lives as far as imagination is concerned? Or are we to believe that a countless number of sages and mystics are walking amongst us?

In truth, the reality of being an “artist“-- or at least in the case of artists I’ve known-- is not exactly magical nor is it a way of life that is surrounded in mystery. Most tend to struggle with the realm of finance or maintaining worthwhile relationships outside of the studio than with the complexities of existence or inner knowledge. Most live what would be considered a ‘normal’ life aside from the fact that they spend hours working in a studio-- with all the exhaustion, sweat, and in some cases tears-- frustration over a failed piece or exhibit rejection can be a pain!-- that is expected from a mere mortal-- no magic attached. Perhaps if more people observed those aspects of the creative process they would no longer fall victim to the myth that I’ve mentioned-- the idea that artists have ‘something‘ that makes them unique over everyone else?

Consider this an open thread about how artists are perceived within the context of society and how the myth surrounding the image of ‘the artist’ has been embedded into our culture. Feel free to comment with your experiences or observations on this subject. If you are an artist with sacred knowledge that is beyond my comprehension I would very much like you to turn a rock into gold. I could use the cash to buy more paints.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

I took great pleasure in ready this and hope to see more like it in the future. This is a big soap box issue that needs to addressed more often along with egotistical BS artist!


Anonymous said...

I see examples of this all the time. So many of my artist friends try to fit into a role and some don't even realize they do it until someone points it out. Thanks for saying what many people will not say.

Anonymous said...

Some(a very small number) artists DO have something in them, "magic attached" that makes them different to other people.That's the whole reason for creative change in art and creative change in all other areas human endeavour.You can never make anything new and original unless you grasp that. I would certainly say that most people do go thro' their lives without making anything new and original.

Anonymous said...

great post brian. it touches on a lot of things that i would agree with. i hold the idea of art very highly and this would be why i would not feel qualified to call myself an artist. for me art is something that communicates the human condition. (i know thats a loose and vague description).
i do not think i have produced anything that communicates that yet and i may never achieve it. i belive history will sort out what art is and isnt. yes, some great work might be overlooked but i reckon its the best gauge we have.

just a quick opinion tho and i dont expect other people to hold this view. its the only way i can make sense of what i do.

Anonymous said...

ive had the experience where you have to tell some one about your art or you have to tell them that you are an artist and are a bit not sure if you want to do that because you will make them confused. you know? they wont understand that you are an artist for some reason. you are an artist? you girl!!

but I did have an interesting experience just this evening at an exhibition. most of the artists understood that you were an artist and the others around did too. that was very interesting. I' ve told people about an art exhibition and they just brush it off with the work"cool". or not even show any great interest in it for some reason. why would you not be interested in art?

I think that some artists just like to create things that are aesthetic. others create ideas that are aesthetic. others simply make ideas to see what others think of them and what ideas others get from that idea. and etc....

Anonymous said...

I have to admit i have not read the entirety of your original post, its a hefty chunk of text, but i would imagine that the myth of the artist as you are putting it here only really gets going from the Romantic movement.

As such i believe it forms a counterpoint to the Enlightenment's reach towards Totality.

The Enlightenment's concerns with the reason, knowledge, and rights and the simultaneous construction of the concept of Individuality are directly at odds with each other. The pursuit of knowledge and the ethics of humanism can only tend to pursue a homogenizing and an objective totalising agenda.

The Romantic counter-reaction is simply an effort to maintain the rights of the individual sovereignty which were beloved by the then middle-classes and which in effect fueled the Enlightenment itself.

It is in effect a ethico-political counter balance to restrain the dominating discourse of the sciences and control by the State.

It is interesting to note that in the Romantic ideal of the Artist there is an effort to maintain the privilege of Aristocracy and Religion, privileges that had effectively been revoked by various revolutions.

However here again we can see a social counter check as the artist only is invested with these privileges on a severely controlled measure in that an Artist must be recognised ordained and commodified by society.

The Artist is an 'individual' elected to represent the people beyond the boundaries of the State.

The visions of the Artist are those events that are beyond the official domination and categorisation of Enlightenment totality.

Even in this though there are compromises as this is art by democracy and as someone said in another thread this is in effect another form of mob rule.

But then that's what Art is: the propaganda for the myth of Democracy.

Have a nice day :-)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. The other day someone asked me what it means to be an artist. I talked about it being the investigative process describing the world around us and how one looks at the world. I find the majority of the world doesn't like to be uncomfortable investigating parts of the world, or doesn't know how to express those parts of the world, or doesn't know how to change parts of the world that need change. I think artists have initiative and motivation that not everyone has, or we've chosen to focus our motivation in this direction. I also instill the idea into the minds of all that ask this question, that everyone is an artist in some way. Everyone has their own talent and quest to manifest that talent.

Anonymous said...

I feel that art is totally magic...many times ive been dirt poor and needed a lot of money ASAP and my art has been there to save me. in these cases i whip out a breathtaking painting and sell it for big bucks...its very magical to create something amazing out of nothing, its an inner power of energy that flows through my body that i can only describe as magic, sadly im only motivated to use this power in dyre need...

Anonymous said...

I don’t know, they say you use the left side of your brain when doing "creative activities" or rather, removing yourself from an environment that requires direct communication. Getting into an art piece for several hours is definitely a form of meditation. I believe that since you are no longer utilizing the left half of the brain (the communication side) as much you can use the right half to communicate your thoughts in a different way. Visually, through music or spoken word, Expressionists seek to find these abstract ideas and communicate them in ways a single language is incapable of. Trying to avoid that "lost in translation" thing. A good movie can make people cry, right?

I admit that I use art as a way of understanding things around me. I can’t say I’ve been very successful at expressing it but I’m slowly getting clarity about how things like teen pregnancy, drug addiction and gang violence have taken over the lives of people I grew up with. I’m not sure if I have built up a superiority complex or how it would affect my artistic attempts.

If societies greatest innovations were built by similar reclusive thinkers (Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison etc.) why is it that the structure that society has limits, censors and exterminates such thinking that can improve the quality of living? Look at Edison’s Wikipedia page

"the invention which first gained him fame was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical."

It seems the problem is that the artist or reclusive innovator risks losing their relationship with the rest of the public. And that some scare tactics designed to keep society stable are backfiring and keeping it in limbo. People can easily just say that making marijuana legal could potentially help bigger problems like unemployment but the propaganda put out against cannabis will make a lot of people close their ears in fear even if they lack any knowledge of the subject. Or religion, we live in an age basing itself more and more on scientific theory and less on religion and spirituality. In many cases, someone who chooses a religion that is not ancient and recognized as a major belief are to be considered part of a "cult" and even thought to be crazy for not conforming.

Innovative thinking, frustrating when misunderstood. Possibly a ridiculous ego boost if successful. I have no idea what to think.

haha I just made that huge rant and had no point.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous #2

"I have to admit i have not read the entirety of your original post, its a hefty chunk of text"

yet you respond in kind?

Anonymous said...

No one views current artistes as superhuman, but hyper sensitive whiners. No one cares about art anymore, because it doesnt care about them. It is now about ones own needs and desires. Not the worlds. No one is a superhuman, we are each one of over six billion, no ones life is more valuable than anothers. But some create more, and leave something that lasts, not foreever, but has influence. Parents, businessmen, farmers, scientists. Art is just one thread of the whole, but visualizes those threads for others to feel life more intensely.

Here comes the truth about what the world feels about artistes, what the 99.9% who have their own lifes to attend to, and not worry about sheltered childrens desires. Ready? Its very non PC. Flakes, fools, and fairies. Hyper SELF sensitivity, not attached to real life. Separated by their own desires from humanity, and so useless. Privileged. Spoiled. Brats.

Thats the truth. Now, have there been artists of the past who contributed to our understanding of LIFE? Of course. They are overhyped as personalitites by the art industry, for its own purposes and gain. Individuals dont matter, humanity does. Our survival. Our growth. Our adapting to reality, and leaving something better for our children. Of course, most artistes are far too self involved to have kids. I have had one, and adopted others. Coached basketball, lost a child to gangstas and insanity, and gained others.

And now back making paintings, and completely disgusted how things are even worse than when I stopped to work with my kids over twelve years ago. Art no longer has purpose, which is all. It no longer wants to be a part of humanity, but separate and "precious".

Artists are explorers. We find things that reflect life, not personal feelings. As Cezanne said, we must be priests, ones who explore the spirtual in the material world. OUT there. And our reactions to it, as a part of it, not seperate. Contemporary art lost this, it is about the individual. Not belonging. And so decadent. The artist doesnt matter. He is no more valuable than a child in Peru, or President in Russia. for it is not about them either. It is about US. Our JOB is to find what binds us, and keeps us together, not separate and divide.

When art no longer has a utilitarian function, design, decoration, or shelter, it is creative art. About the spirit. The work does reflect the artists preoccupation, his motif, but must get beyond that. And become universal. Self expression is inherent, in all we do. Sewing, cooking, mowing the lawn. It is not the point of art. Art is the glue that binds us, the materialization of the life around us, that we are a part of. The better the art, the more this produces intense feelings of belonging, of living. NOT the individuals petty concerns.

No, people in the real world dont care about art at all. They see the pontifications of critics in coffee table books about past art stars, and more and more marketed new ones, who really are absurd. Now entertainment for the rich and decadent. Something no one else cares about anymore. For it is not about them. No, people dont view artists as "special" except in the retarded way. Overly sensitive waifs and metrosexuals. Those lacking vitality. And so watch sports, which are far more intense and truly a part of life, though greatly over marketed too. But at least real drama. And skill. And passion. And, Purpose.

Art has failed the world. Will it ever again find Purpose? When the times are right, when true change comes about. We are living through those times now. Will any actually get out of their own tiny worlds and see it, work to reflect it? Not politically, but in how we are part of so much more? New Ism's wont do it, they are false and contrived. Creativity comes from studying life, working object into reflections of that life force, slowly, painstakingly. Ignoring our own petty concerns.

No, we are not special. But fulfilling a need of humanity that has existed from the beginning, when we address that role, we can be useful. And that is Purpose.

Art academia delenda est.

Anonymous said...

Happiness comes from within, and so does creating a great piece of artwork. There are no words out
there to describe this feeling, and I think you use all of your senses. If I never sold a single piece of artwork, it would not matter to me and I would continue to create because there is an inner drive that haunts you and will never leave until you get it out. I work in an office for the money because I need to help support my family, but I continue to paint portraits and landscapes and when someone sees my work ans shows more excitement about it than I feel, I know that it is something very important & necessary to do. Plain & simple, it puts a smile on their face and I like that.

Unknown said...

I believe all peoples have the potential to exhibit that so-called "magic" or mysterious intuition that seems so inherent in artists. The difference is that we as artist embrace this insight. We are "hyper aware" because of it. Face it. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to stick to art when one's family or just society in general says grow up and get a real job.

Anonymous said...

using the word myth gives the Aurthur a aura of insightfullness and in return perhaps has romantic ideas about himself as some kind of guru to truth...what about using the word stereotyped

Anonymous said...

Theirs the artist as the romantic, and the artist as the social realist
the greater the imagination the greater the delusion. living in a culture is living the myths. this covers attitudes, colors , we all adopted.its all identity... in all good art their is myth making. and out of it comes new stories new ideas, and it all comes from origin, that's what ORIGINALITY IS.The artist should be aware of his myth making, in the same way as say a punk rocker lives to the myths of a punk if he does not he would be known as a plastic, untrue. how ever you decide to live, its all a roll,,life is like a stage and if you try and be normal you only conform to the popular idea of what normal is..