Portraits of the Artist
The portrait of the artist has grown so grotesque that Francis Bacon himself would shudder upon the sight of it. The title ‘artist’ has forever been an umbrella term, not necessarily meant to group any individual with artistic tendencies into a singular definition, but more so to provide for such individuals a shelter under which to stay warm, protected from the cruel world that has so often failed to understand us. The title ‘artist’ provided a sense of solidarity, where the differences from one artist to the next gave our umbrella depth and dimension. Our differences from one another made us a stronger, more cohesive unit in the bigger picture because, inherently, every artist strove for and wanted similar things.
One artist was never completely like another, but there has always been a definite us-versus-them mentality between those who ‘had it’ and ‘got it’ and those who ‘didn’t’ and ‘hated it’ for that reason. Artists of every breed were always separated from the non-artists of the corporate world. It’s not like that anymore. It is quite possible that it has never really been that way at all, but whether there had been a definite divider or whether such a divider had simply been an illusion, this much is clear: the divider has been split into sub-dividers and can now be found cutting into our umbrella, forcing us to fend for ourselves just to keep from drowning.
The relationship between money and art has always been complicated. The image of the struggling artist has become a caricature. Woolf, among others, has asked what effect poverty has on fiction. We have reason to believe that, in today’s artistic world, if poverty and art were indeed required to fornicate in order to bring about a genius lovechild, such children would hardly ever be born. Artists of yore who have borne such genius dealt with poverty because they had no choice, but something tells us that Judd Apatow wouldn’t bother writing a script assuring us that it is indeed okay for men to be misogynist against women if there were no money in it. Instead, he would have gone to school, possibly for a law degree, sexually harassed his female clerk, made tons of money, and only then on a whim try his hand at writing a film about a lawyer whose degenerate practices in and out of court end up being idolised and copied the nation over by thousands of young male law students hoping to do the same thing. It would be a success, surely, yet he would fail to hold up his end of the promise of offering his clerk the lead role for that courtroom handjob – at least that’s how he’ll tell the story to his ‘buddies.’
If, in the past, money were perceived as such a necessary crutch as it seems to be now, could you imagine the amount of art we would be deprived of today? There most likely wouldn’t exist anything by Joyce, who would’ve settled for his third or fourth choice of occupation as either a schoolteacher or a banker (behind, of course, a writer and a tenor, both artistic pursuits), and the only ones lucky enough to have heard any of his tales would be his mates at the pub, and surely they’d have been much too drunk to care. An equally worse scenario: imagine the quality of art passed down by our predecessors had money played such a part. The bar would be embarrassingly low, yet today’s artists wouldn’t be able to raise it an inch because they wouldn’t have seen it done before.
We live in different times. The artists of the past have indeed paved the way for artists today. There is now more funding for the arts, and a number of artists are able to live off their work. Should today’s artists feel fortunate? Of course. Some of us have more opportunities to pursue what we love, and for that, we owe our gratitude to artists of the past for garnering the financial attention needed to continue pushing the importance of art. But have many of today’s artists lost sight of what is truly important? Absolutely they have. The path being paved in our favour does not give us the right to get greedy. The amount of money available to artists (which is still a small amount) is meant as a trust fund, and it is meant as a means to improve and strengthen the ongoing collective oeuvre to which artists of every generation should strive to contribute. Money is supposed to be a means to an artistic end result. Somewhere along the way, many of today’s artists, some with legitimate talent and others not so much, have used art as a means to a financial end. Money is an artistic distraction, a mole posing as a useful asset, only to infiltrate one’s creativity and forever ruin it from within. Once ruined by money, there seems no recovery. We aren’t claiming that a recovery isn’t possible, but we just haven’t seen one happen before. We feel it’d be a complete waste of time keeping an eye out for something like that.
Money has fragmented the portrait of the artist. That portrait, that umbrella, which had for so long provided artists with solidarity, integrity, and the means to hone mere talent into handcrafted brilliance, is nowhere to be found. It seems that no one is aware that we as artists are at war with one another. The products of our broken portrait are, for the most part, disillusioned. Those not disillusioned instead feel hopeless. Those not yet hopeless are just angry. Can today’s artistic world be saved? Never before has money infiltrated so many artists into thinking it’s all part of the ‘game.’ Never before has one type of artist differed so wholeheartedly from another. Never before has the title ‘artist’ been reduced to nothing, or even worse: a complete joke. The age-old question of ‘What is art?’ now has an unfortunate companion: ‘What is an artist?’