|"Museums are just a lot of lies, and the people who make art their business are mostly impostors."|
"There have been all sorts and manner of artists, from the uncouth Richard Wagner, who gave us sublime music and was probably one of the meanest and most despicable characters that ever lived, to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who also gave us sublime music and left behind a reputation for gentleness and charm and unselfish generosity that may have been equalled but never surpassed by the saints themselves."
Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 'The Arts'
Time magazine asked Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough why he started writing a biography of Pablo Picasso but never finished it. McCullough said it was because the famous artist turned out to be boring.
Sure; he attracted a steady flow of new lovers, and made hundreds of paintings, but he didn't actually live an interesting life, said McCullough.
Boring? There are many of his jilted 'muses' who might go even further, and disagree with the title of Jonathan Richman's song, "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole." In addition to being called exactly that, I'll bet he was also occasionally called a vain-glorious egomaniac and lots of other not-so-flattering things by many, including Gertrude Stein.
"Well, some people try to pick up girls and get called an asshole,It all made me question whether it's necessary to like an artist in order to like their work, or can Bad people make Good Art?
this never happened to Pablo Picasso.
He could walk down your street
and girls could not resist his stare,
and so Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole."
Gallery owner Rebecca Ibel once told me that the personality of an artist is completely irrelevant for her when considering the merits of their Art. I wonder if it's that easy to separate the two. It rings a tad hollow if you agree that as an aspiring artist, it's not what you do but who you know, so you'd better hone that inner social climber. It seems blindingly obvious in the wake of Art Stardom that the cult of personality is alive and well. Good people get leeway, but being Bad gets you media attention
In the case of Picasso, his status as a heavyweight makes any quibbles about his personality sound like the sour grapes it probably is. I'd like to think that the artists whose work I enjoy reveal something fundamental of their personal nature through their creative process, and that good artists are also on some basic level good people. I'm basically holding out hope that the universe rewards goodness with success.
If an artist has all the personality of an anal wart, shouldn't we be able to detect that just by standing in front of their Art?
|I doubt if Marie de Medici's arrival actually involved nudity|
Take Rubens for example. It's self-evident that his paintings speak volumes about his personality. They convey a rich personal understanding of literature and culture. And he threw naked women into pretty much every painting. Why? Because he liked them. For better or worse, his personality was intrinsically linked to his Art to the point where it's impossible to consider his Life and Work separately. If he was a real jerk, I wonder if we'd still be enjoying his paintings to this day.
But what if the opposite is also true? What if really nice, decent people can create egotistical, bloated rubbish as their art? We might roll our eyes and mutter something about "manure" in front of a piece of art, expecting the artist to be equally as pompous as their work, but they could easily be great people making an honest attempt at it.
So then who is the asshole? Me the viewer, that's who. Mr. high-and-mighty-judgmental-pants.
Ultimately though, I find it hard to believe that there is a total disconnection between the work of an artist's hand, and their personality. Otherwise, Art is just a cold intellectual pursuit. But I know that's just naive. I'm not suggesting that Art always has to be deep or monumental and all that, but there's something about slapping useless crud on a wall and calling it a 'post-consumerist comment on capitalism' that reminds me a lot of horse turds.
Maybe the Yana Indians were on to something: maybe the gods have retreated into a volcano somewhere and are killing time playing gambling games with magic sticks, waiting for human beings to reform themselves and become 'real people' again, people the gods might want to actually associate with. The last survivor of the Yana tribe emerged from the hills of California in 1911, having lived his 49 years alone and away from civilized society. Evidently the gods are still in hiding.
Nicola Keegan, author of the critically acclaimed Swimming, told me that we "have to stay focused on excellence." That could be just words though: 'Excellence' could mean anything, and is different for everyone. In this case, she meant that we should always be true to our passion and try to do our very best work regardless of any financial or critical consideration. I found it hard to agree in practice. It's not easy to disregard that stuff when you've got bills to pay.
|Making a virtue of ignorance|
With every advert extolling us to 'Just Do It,' and 'Express Yourself', arguments for Tradition and the slow acquisition of good old-fashioned Skill are drowned out in the noise of personal ego and a sense of entitlement, where we celebrate easy fame and a quick buck. We are sold the fable that each of us has an inner celebrity waiting to burst on stage and win American Idol. As Marilyn Monroe said; "we are all stars, and we demand our right to twinkle." Every talk show (and even now the Evening News) urges us to "call in and tell us what YOU think."
|I'm sorry, have we even met?|
Maybe the simple truth is that we shouldn't be listening to everything everybody has to say all the time, because some of those people are just not worth listening to. For me, it's simply a matter of knowing when to put the brush down and pack it in because it's just not working, and taking a walk through a Museum. There's nothing like looking at good Art to put things in perspective. Seeing how a Master resolved a certain passage in a painting is a great exercise. If nothing else, it certainly puts that ego in it's place.