Musings: on artists

August 27, 2010  |  By
Filed under: Back Page

My last post was on the nature of being an artist’s artist. This month I thought I’d step back and follow up with thoughts about artists more broadly. I’ve been curating since 1979, have worked with literally thousands of artists, so inevitably I have developed certain impressions of the way many artists engage the world. However I take these steps very tentatively, as so much silliness has been foisted along these lines. Most particularly, my friends and I often talk about the way artists have been depicted by Hollywood and tv. These are the predictable and familiar cliches: self-destructive, violent, egomaniacal, effete, cruel, miserable, drug- and alcohol-addicted, childish. The artist Tracey Moffat, in her video Artist, (2000) nails this depiction, with clips from several commercial films and tv.

My idea, then, is to tread very lightly, while making an attempt to offer a few small observations toward the ongoing goal in these posts of understanding the field to which I’ve given my life. Most artists’ existence has the same outward form of most everybody else’s. They’re in relationships, have children, hold down jobs, own houses, have circles of friends with whom they socialize, et al. The specifics of how they fill out the details of each of these traits might skew unusually (e.g loft over tract house), but in essence the form of their lives is much as everyone else’s. Yet there are times when I find myself thinking about someone I’ve recently met, and realizing that, for me, he or she share particular traits that I always recognize but don’t have a name for. Does this list resonate with you? At best I think this might be an interesting baby step toward a taxonomy of the artist, at worst–oh my god!–a recapitulation of the Hollywood cliches in sheep’s clothing. And, clearly not all artists share all these traits and you don’t have to have any of them to be an artist.

(1) Some artists seem to know at a very early age that what he or she will do with their life is make art.

(2) Some artists have no option–it is not a choice–to be anything other than that artist; they will make art in a vacuum. If they wake up alone after the apocalypse they will go right on making art.

(3) Many artists essentially only care about making art; their engagement with things that most of us care about–income, nice homes, comfort, health, safety–is indifferent to uncaring.

(4) Many artists are never fully present except when in the studio. If you can get them to share a meal with you, you realize that at best they’re only three-quarters present, with the best part of them thinking about what’s going on in the studio, or guilty about not being there, wasting time.

(5) In the studio time disappears for some, and worldly matters like rest and food can become mere distractions and annoyances.

(6) For some, there is  endless fascination with the progress of their research, and in the nature of the world, and their minds’ encounters with the world. They comprehend the experience of being alive in the world primarily as not a political nor a social experience, but an aesthetic one. The complexity and beauty of the universe is more than enough for a lifetime’s investigations.

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