Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Now I understand

I was always taken a bit aback when studying artists who were misunderstood or not appreciated in their own times.  How could someone with that much obvious talent not be covered in laurels during their working period.  It was a sin that Van Gogh was ignored until he died.  In a way, it was the cold shoulder he received at the hands of the public that contributed to his greatness and to his eventual downfall. 
He was both inspired by the snubs he perceived to become better and demoralized by this same ambivalence to his work.  While he kept getting better, the public seemed intent on upping the ante on ignoring him.  The better his work became, the more vocal the silence that greeted him became.

I see this mirrored in my own work, from the lack of any kind of public discussion.  I'm not comparing myself to Van Gogh here, merely seeing the parallel between the public and their nonchalance.  It was the fact that he kept at it that inspires me.  Regardless of the snubbing he accepted at the hands of the public, he maintained his path and created his best works...right up to the time he took his own life in a corn field.  It's unfair to say that it was the reason for his suicide, this lack of attention.  Van Gogh was a troubled man.  Like Jackson Pollok after him, the attention of an adoring public was something he craved, but unlike Pollok, that adoration was something he never got.  Had the masses accepted his work and pronounced him a genius, it would hardly have silenced the voices in his head that disagreed.  When the public embraced Pollok, it embraced a tortured soul and that pain eventually is what steered his Oldsmobile off the road that August evening. 

The public is like a woman, an old friend once told me.  He was an artist who showed work regularly in galleries in Deep Ellum.  He sold a few paintings, but never enough to keep himself gainfully employed.  He turned to bartending to keep the rent paid and eventually drifted away from Art alltogether.  He was a talented artist and his abandonment of the craft means that the world is a poorer place because of it.  "The Masses are as fickle as a pretty girl, Roger."  he told me.  "It goes after the fun, wherever that is.  Today, it's Seattle Grunge.  Tomorrow, it will be New Orleans Jazz.  Next week?  Who knows.  All you can do is keep your focus and do what YOU see in your head." 
He told me that to get caught up in the trappings of fame and success was to dilute yourself.  Every time you veer off the path of what drives you as an artist, you lose a bit of the spark that drove you to get there, eventually dulling that spark and losing it entirely.  That was sage advice and I heed it to this day, but I still can't help but wonder why I do this.  I know MY reason for being an artist.  I have to be one.  I am compelled to create.  I have always been a builder of some form or another.  But there is always the rent every month.  No matter what you build, it has to be sustainable or you will starve.  The question I pose myself is will I know when to get out while I still can?  Or will I just wake up one afternoon and find I'm in a cornfield?

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