This is the first post of any kind I have made since deciding to take a break from posting almost daily on social media. It’s been enjoying myself quite a bit. Remember, I am still working on my artwork; I’m just not posting pictures of progress and process. There is something about having that time with my work, as I’m creating it — having it back, just for me and me alone that has been particularly restful for me mentally and emotionally.
I have been thinking about a lot of different things while I work. I tease apart my own thoughts, trying to discover their various origins and how they influence how I interact not only with myself, but the people and greater world around me. I sometimes find myself mentally gnawing on specific things that have been said to me regarding my artwork, or being an artist by different people at different times over the course of my life. Some of the things I have heard just get stuck to me. Velcro’d down tight to my mind, almost immoveable, while others are more like stepping in gum on a hot summer day, messy, annoying and hard to control.
I’ve had one of those ‘stepping in gum’ things banging around in my head for the better part of a month now. The core message of the phrase remains the same, while the delivery is somewhat plastic. What it usually boils down to is something along of the lines of “…someday, when your work is in a museum…” The aforementioned phrase usually has something about my talent in it, or the degree of fame or influence my artwork will have on future artists, etc. I have increasingly found myself having a reaction not unlike the picture below:
(This is called the “Confused Nick Young” Meme)
The meme posted pretty much fits with how I inwardly process this kind of comment. I know that whomever is telling me that my work will be in a museum someday means it as a compliment, I don’t think they really understand that what they are really saying to an artist is…problematic.
Let’s take a look at the implications made in a statement like, “Oh! Don’t worry! Someday, when you’re art is in a museum, everyone will see how talented you were and be inspired by it!”
Sometimes, the “Oh! Don’t worry!” portion of this statement seems directed at an artists desire to sell more of their work, or be able to gain more clients, have a greater amount of performances, or to be able to display their work in some way, shape or form that will gain them exposure to people, persons, or organizations that would be willing to purchase their art. To be quite frank, artists, both performing and visual are constantly worrying about these things. An artist with no place to show their work or perform is still an artist, but one with very limited means of procuring money, which is exchanged for goods and services, like food, clothing, rent among other things. We worry because we know our ‘talent’ won’t get us a seat on the bus, because the busses take money, not interpretive dance or drawings as bus fare.
On to the next word the phrase, “…someday…” Someday. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not three weeks from next Tuesday. Someday. Someday. An imaginary date in an unknown, distant future. The artist may still be alive or maybe is dead. The artist may be long dead. Or perhaps the artist is just really, really, really old. That’s when the artists’ artwork will be recognized as worthy enough to be placed in socioculturally-ordained building where important, expensive or rare things from around the world and different times in human history are placed behind glass and velvet ropes and curtains, so that people can come and look at them after they have paid a fee to enter.
In the simplest of terms, the use of ‘someday’ could be interpreted as a polite substitution for the phrase, “after you’re dead” or “when you’re close to dead”. (Please refer to the above Nick Young meme) Pull at those threads a little more, and it makes an artist feel as though the only time in which their art will make any money is when there is no chance of any more of their art being made. Dead artists don’t make art. This makes the supply of their art finite. An artist can get knotted-up thinking about these kinds of things. Is my work really good now, or will it only be ruled good after I die? Or is it after I’m dead and a museum decides that it’s good — or at least rare — artwork?
Yeah. I know. It seems as though I’m getting a little…dramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of being so. I should simply take the compliment, smile and move on. Believe me, I do. However…the way in which I interpret this phrase has changed between the first time and the most recent time that I have heard it. I know that I must sound childish. That there are artists out there that would love it if people would tell them that they think their artwork is good enough to be in a museum. Compliments are nice, but assuring me that I will have some degree of fame when closer to death, or already pushing up the daisies, well…that doesn’t help me get across town because the bus is €3 each way.
This brings up another interesting part of this phrase; fame. One assumes that if an artist has their work in a museum that they must be famous, right? What artist doesn’t want to have a degree of fame?
When I think about artistic fame after death, I think of van Gogh. I’ve been to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It’s a stones throw from the Rijksmuseum where several works from Rembrandt van Rijn are, including ‘The Night Watch’. Much of van Gogh’s life is at least partially known about by most people. “He’s the crazy painter who cut off his ear!” and that he painted sunflowers is what most people glean from his life at a minimum. Rembrandt is known of, but I don’t believe most people on the street (outside of the Netherlands) would know what his work looks like, or anything about his life. (I personally like that the bubble water I buy at Lidl is called Saskia, his wife’s name.)
Each of these artists had their own trials and tribulations, to put it very, very mildly. Van Gogh shot himself with a pistol and died a day or so later, feeling like a failure. Rembrandt died penniless and wad buried in an unmarked grave. Rembrandt was considered a master in his own lifetime. He knew he was brilliantly talented and so did everyone who saw and purchased his work. Van Gogh struggled his entire life. His last nine years alive saw him create a truly amazing amount of drawings and paintings. He sold two paintings when alive. It was after he was dead that artists and admirers began showing his artwork to a public.
Why the rise in fame after his death, and not before it? I’ve always thought that it was two part. First, there will be no more new paintings or drawings by van Gogh, and second, the story. The majority Vincent van Gogh’s life suuuuucked. He had problems. A lot of problems. He struggled with everything. With love, with religion, with his family, with the world, with his own mind. Then there’s Theo, the brother who never stopped supporting him. Never turned his back on him, even when Vincent was…really going through the unbearably bad stretches in his life. Theo’s widow compiled the letters the two wrote and published them. Vincent’s work was saved by her efforts.
Oh. And, van Gogh sold one painting during his life time. It was less than a year before he took his own life. He sold The Red Vineyard for 400 francs (around $2,000 USD).
The letters of Vincent and Theo were published. A museum was eventually built and houses an impressive collection of van Gogh’s work. It’s €19 ($21.30 USD) for an adult ticket to get into the museum. Free for those under 18. You pay more if there is a special exhibit. In 2015, the Van Gogh Museum took in €27.3 million ($30.2 million USD). The museum is very nice, but I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. The galleries were packed with people who wanted to see the ‘famous’ paintings. There were people packed in tight taking selfies in front of van Gogh’s work. They really didn’t seem interested in the work per se. They seemed there more for the selfies than anything else.
So wait, let’s go back a bit…to €27.3 million?
I stood in a room covered with the work of van Gogh while they snapped selfies in front of his most famous paintings. They paid €19 to do this. I know, some people were there to actually learn something and experience the artwork, but…the whole museum made me want to cry. Van Gogh is famous. His work sells for millions and millions of dollars. His artwork is reproduced on everything front toilet seat covers to fabric to car wraps. Many people make money from the artwork that he created.
He’s famous. He’s dead. He had a life that really suuuuuuucked.
So, when I’m given the compliment that my work will be someday recognized as good, and placed in museums, this is the kind of thing that runs through my head. Everyone BUT me will be able to, in the words of Hank Venture, “Get a slice of that fat money cake.“
I sometimes feel that the implied meaning behind the “someday you’ll be in a museum” compliment is that I desire fame (I don’t) and am willing to live a weird-outsider bourgeois-imagined la bohéme existence complete with some sort of mental illness (I’m on meds for my depression, does that count?) that somehow makes me “extra special” in some sort of pleasantly acceptable sort of way to the vast majority of people who have no personal knowledge of art or art making.
My specialness! My talent! They were simply too far ahead of the curve! This is why I’m not selling my work now! I’m making art for say around the year 2050 or so! It will all sell when I’m dead! I’ll be so famous then! When I’m dead! This changes EVERYTHING! I’m so glad that I can pay my bills with the aforementioned promises of ‘someday I’ll be in a museum’ fame and fortune.
Yeah. I know. The lady doth protest too much. I think just needed to vent a little, I guess. If I didn’t get sarcastic about things like this that begin to chafe me mentally and emotionally, it would start coming out in really inappropriate places and times. I know that no one has money to buy artwork right now. The most that some can do is pay me a compliment, or give me a thumbs-up or a like on a social media platform. I get that. It’s just that sometimes, the compliments begin to remind me of how much I’m failing miserably right now. Because if I were truly talented. If my work were truly good, I would have found a way to make it all work for me by now, and I haven’t. And thinking about people paying €19 to come and take a selfie in front of a piece of artwork that I made while dragging myself, body and soul through a mental minefield of broken glass, while not even looking at the work, or realizing what the work is about…or why I made it…that’s just smashes me.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Monday.
Prime Mover, Rush, Hold Your Fire, September 1987