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Peeks and Piques! Disheartenment

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES November/ December 2011

THE THING IS, no one ­exactly chooses to be an artist. It’s not like a career decision of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or Indian Chief (although I don’t suppose you choose being an “Indian Chief” either — in fact, artists, like Indian Chiefs are born to the job, and saddled with it whether they like it or not). I know it’s an old conundrum and many do not subscribe to the old saw that “artists are born, not made” — but over the past 35 years or so, in my profiling or writing about the work of artists, it seems that most are, indeed, born to the yoke. As my readers are aware, I tend to separate “artists” pretty severely into “genuine” and “non-genuine” practitioners of the profession — in brief, those who are less believable (at least to me) are those who have been primarily in the hands of teachers, while the “real-dealers” are those who’ve been driven since childhood. To the born artist, not being this week’s favorite flavor is irrelevant, to not be the main attraction at the current “blockbuster” equally so. “Artists” are who they are — not what they do. They are focused on bringing to realization their inner visions — on the process rather than on the product that may or may not be exhibited and/or sold. This is not to imply that “real” artists do not need teachers to instruct them in technique, but that they do not require an outside force in being creatively expressive, i.e. “artists”. In Renaissance times, artists were believed to be “divinely inspired” — in effect, “called upon” by God’s directly “breathing” the creative spark into them at birth. They can’t help but draw or paint or carve or mold — can’t help but create things with their hands. Most of these “creations” — in the larger economical scheme of things — are “worthless” and this is almost always immediately recognized by parents and guardians who attempt to guide their offspring and/or charges to more profitable paths (an old, old story to art historians). However, whether you believe that they are born or taught, the fact is that many of the “genuine” (my call) artists find that their lives are often fraught with disappointment and depression, more often than not wondering why they didn’t listen to their parents when they urged them to learn a profitable trade. We’ve all heard the old joke: “What’s the difference between a pizza and an artist? A pizza can feed a family of four!” All artists soon learn they are on an uphill journey, unable to even support themselves no less than a family of four — but those who are inner-driven seem to suffer more since they have no alternative but to create more while their less-committed comrades can turn to table-waiting, bartending and the like — some even giving up altogether and conceding that their parents were, after all, wiser than they thought. “Born” artists usually have no such escape hatch — they either create or suffer serious illness, some even opting for suicide. Never mind not selling, I’ve seen some going into a deep and angry funk when their work was rejected from a juried show — not knowing (or caring) that such choices are more often based on artworld politics rather than on merit. Being told that their life’s work is unacceptable is — well — unacceptable to them. It is a rejection of them as well as of their work — a rejection of their raison d’etre, and this is a bitter pill to swallow. Our world has never seen fit to make the lot of our artists a particularly cheerful — or profitable — one. Given the circumstances and given our own social, cultural and economic set-up, I don’t see any ready-made cure on the horizon. Tant pis!

(Visit my blog at rjsteiner.wordpress for more “Peeks & Piques!)