Are you enigmatic enough? Do you confound ordinary people with your sudden and erratic changes of mood and direction? Are you considered unstable, feckless, degenerate, debauched, immoral, indolent, brooding, depressed, disreputable, tortured, unreliable, self-centred, self-destructive, impossible to work with, or just plain crazy? Are you an absinthe-swilling, chain-smoking, substance-abusing wastrel? Do you fail to remember to eat for days at a time? Are you flaky? Do you dress outlandishly, wear your hair in a manner that frightens small children and have a preference for bizarre facial hair? Are kaftans and sandals your thing? Do you shun the regimentation of grooming and personal hygiene? Are you considered to be so absorbed in your own art, that you have no real connection with other people or the outside world, unable to recount the price of a pint of milk? Do you cheat, lie, steal, betray and lay waste to close personal relationships, in pursuit of your artistic goals? Do you insist on perfection and shout at assistants, models and suppliers that don’t produce results that meet your exacting, impossibly high standards? Can you sulk and hold competitive grudges for an entire lifetime? Do you suddenly and inexplicably throw stuff violently around your studio and stab your canvases? Have you ever set fire to your lesser works in an act of pique, or selfish denial of your art to the world? Do you consort with dangerous people? Have you ever been in a duel to the death or a sword fight? Have you ever made any serious attempt at self harm, involving sharp blades? Do you frequent bordellos, behave so unacceptably that you are barred permanently from several of these establishments and do you have untreated STDs? If not, why not? People expect that of artists. You aren’t holding up your end of the bargain, are you?
(I write this with tongue slightly in cheek).
I wonder where such notions come from and why they persist. Every artist I know is diligent and earnest about their work, often working much harder than you would expect. Most of them have a deep sensitivity which they rely upon to bring life to the artworks. Most of them just want to be able to do what they do, but survive in the world that demands they pay their way. Most artists I know are really decent, well-meaning, hard-working people. In the real world, artists that don’t have motivation, self-discipline and a decent work ethic don’t produce very much of value, for very long.
The artists that fit the stereotype are often the misguided wannabes that think that playing the role is the same as being the actual thing. They are more interested in appearing to be an artist, than in becoming an artist through endless hours of effort and application. Often, they’re actually investment bankers. Unfortunately, it’s those “artists” who indulge in excess that the papers want to write about. They fill the column inches with their outrageous antics. There are more papers sold as the result of a report of a wild carousing by an artist than there are about stories of dedication, hard work, sacrifice and application, culminating in works of such breathtaking originality and outstanding quality, such as the world has never seen before.
Many of the art market’s agents, who profit from talking up the value of their roster of artists over everybody else’s, resort to conflating tales of artistic eccentricity or excess rather than focusing on the aesthetic qualities of their artists’ work, because that’ s easier to do. The audience is receptive to such fantasies. People expect that of artists. In a vicarious, voyeuristic way, the audience secretly wishes they had the freedom to live a life of unconstrained behaviour, too (though few would actually survive it).
So what is an artist to do? Play along and become the performing monkey that is required by popular stereotype, at considerable risk to their own artistic faculties and output, or should they maintain their integrity, focus on what’s important and hone their skills and craft, until they have natural facility with their media and can produce unconsciously and in the flow? Should they put on a farcical pantomime, as if they were in show business, or let their art do the talking?
I know what I want to do.