Whenever I hear this phrase about an artist, I despair. We all know there are artists that are so good at what they do, or who have become popular so suddenly, that they accumulate vast wealth almost overnight and are never heard from again. Often, it is because they lose their creative spark. They stop doing what made them wealthy in the first place.
Why is that? Surely being an artist is not about getting wealthy. In my view, it’s about having your say through your work. The creative urge is just there. You don’t get to turn it on or off. It’s an essential part of you. Surely the need to work is not about paying bills, when you’re an artist, it’s about producing something that wasn’t there before. How come a full bank balance can make you lose the urge to make things? OK, the utilitarian aspect is fulfilled and you have more temptations because you have money to lead you into them, but why would any real artist stop making art just because they had accumulated wealth? I don’t get it.
Perhaps highly successful artists are held to a higher standard and hence they run out of the ability to improve upon their own previously successful works. Even that sounds dubious to me. Art is nothing if not a journey into challenging your own boundaries and limitations continuously. When does that ever end?
So why do very successful artists so frequently retire young? Is it that they didn’t really enjoy making art in the first place, or did the business issues and trappings that come along with a commercial success take all the fun out of it? Were the terms of their contracts so onerous that their art felt like work and not very pleasant work?
Does abandoning their art as soon as they can afford to do so negate the aesthetic value of their earlier works? If it turns out they were only cynically creating art to make money, does that detract from the authenticity of the work? Does it envelop an artist like this in hypocrisy? Were they just pretending?
I’m always heartened when I see really old artists, maybe past their prime, maybe comfortably off and financially independent, but still following their muse and making their works. I like to think that art is about humanity and that while you still live and breathe, there is art to be created. I’d like to imagine that the measure of success that an artist holds himself to is not whether he is rich, but whether or not he keeps discovering new things and improving his art. It would be a nice dream to believe.