Imagine if Van Gogh or Mozart had lived longer. Can you think what additional masterpieces they might have produced? We feel the loss of those works of art that never were acutely. Nobody ever said they wished Van Gogh had painted fewer paintings or Mozart composed fewer pieces. We hunger for those works that they didn’t live long enough to create. We long for them. Their absence is like a giant gaping hole in our collective culture. If only…
The same could be said for Nicola Tesla, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Claude Monet, Fred Astaire, Nat King Cole, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. etc. We wish there was more of their work to enjoy, but we’re aware that, as much as they contributed and produced, it just wasn’t enough, in the end. We could have done with so much more. The world would be better, if only there were twice as many works by each of these people left for the rest of us to enjoy.
Of course, in their lifetimes, both Van Gogh and Mozart, my first two examples, were considered a waste of space. People begrudged paying them. Landlords and lenders hounded them for unpaid rents and debts. They were thought to be unpleasant and inconvenient, in polite society. Essentially, they didn’t fit in.
Neither of them had the trappings and wealth of society figures, nor the power and influence of somebody recognisably important, like a noble or wealthy merchant. Both were considered to be lowly, jobbing artists, producing works that were sometimes quite offensive, in their brash novelty. The senses were assaulted by the emotional impact of their work and most people of the day found this uncomfortable and disturbing. They didn’t like it. They didn’t like them. They thought their art was somewhat odious.
Remember this, next time you pass judgement on the merits and worth of some contemporary artist or other. Ask yourself which of these artists will be sadly missed, when they’re gone. Which of these artists will we wish had been able to gather the energy, heart, courage, resources and opportunities to make more of their art? Which ones should we assist instead of impeding?
As an artist, next time you feel the dead weight of rejection, criticism or obstruction, in your work, remind yourself that you might be that artist who, in time, everybody wishes had been able to produce more of their work. Rather than despairing and giving up, think of how much the work you don’t produce is going to be missed, with an ache and hunger that can never be satisfied, once you’re gone. Let your work speak for a life well lived, as an artist.
Think of all the missing masterpieces.