Stop Crying Over Spilt Genius

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What is it with the incessant lamentation that artists didn’t “get what they deserved while they were alive”?

It’s probably their own fault, so knock it off.

Take note of the artists who sought attention in their own time compared to those who did not.   What sense does it make to mourn those who didn’t bother asking for recognition?  Didn’t they get exactly what they asked for? Van Gogh detested marketing and business and was quite clear that he wished to “leave a memento before he died” as he did not “care much for his own life”. He got exactly what he wished for, did not ask for sympathy, and does not deserve any. If recognition was important to him, he could have gotten himself out of the boondocks and worked his substantial connections in Paris one or two months out of the year instead of pining and whining to his brother via mail.  He had years to do this before he became ill.  Van Gogh’s level of recognition in his lifetime was his own fault, and for people to continue to absolve him is ludicrous and doesn’t help living artists at all. It perpetuates the belief that promotional sloth for an artist is OK, even admirable!, even though Picasso, Dali, O’Keefe et. al. proved otherwise.  O’Keefe is a perfect example. She did good, hard work out in the boondocks, New Mexico, then married into the hub of contemporary oil painting in the United States, Alfred Stieglitz in New York City.  Say what you will about her motivations in that marriage but she got what she asked for: recognition of good work in her lifetime.

Artists choose their path.  They tend to be intelligent people.  They know that their life decisions have consequences.  If they want stability they can become lawyers and doctors.  Many forego respectable jobs, powerful family connections, and some are even trust fund babies!  Stop pretending they don’t know what they are doing when they choose not to bother with recognition.

I suppose that brilliant dead artists are our “mythos”.  They are “gods” that we characterize as underworshipped in their own day.  So we have sympathy for them.  Even if they never asked for it or if it’s too late to make a difference to them.  We do it for us, because it makes us feel valiant.  “If so-and-so were alive today I would appreciate her!”  No you wouldn’t.  You’d ignore her along with everyone else and pay attention to whomever is in the newspaper, magazine, blog, or whatever you deem a reliable source for who is “important”.  If you really want to break out of this.  If you really mean it.  Start ignoring the news and the “arbiters of taste” and start thinking for yourself.   If you’re already doing this, I am grateful to you.  If you’re an artist, the ball is in your court.

You can’t help Van Gogh, but you can help the bright, promising artist down the street who is alive to appreciate your support.

One Comments to “Stop Crying Over Spilt Genius”
  1. Maggie Siner says:

    Now I can’t help myself but I must correct something you said about Van Gogh. You said he hated marketing and if he wanted to be successful he would have been in Paris, but actually if you read his letters you’ll see just how interested he was in marketing, and how he and his brother in Paris, working at the biggest Gallery of the day (which also had venues in London and other cities) – in fact, the same gallery Vincent himself worked in for years (which was owned by his uncle) and which is where he learned about art marketing LONG before he became an artist himself – you’ll see how much marketing was important to them. He DID spend time in Paris, and he met all the artists, and that in turn helped Theo to know all the contemporary artists he hoped to show in his small gallery (offshoot of his uncle’s mainline gallery). His idea of going off to the boondocks was not original – it was very trendy. ALL the Impressionists were doing it (Cezanne already in Aix) and he was hoping to establish the art center – a community if artists. Remember that he had a pact which was also a business agreement with his brother. Vincent would do the paintings and Theo would sell them at the gallery (and support him in return). It was a good business plan, it’s just that Vincent was rather difficult and his paintings did not sell, or maybe Theo was not a good salesman. But he said repeatedly in his letters that he wanted to make paintings to decorate middle class homes. He certainly didn’t whine about not being recognized. In fact, i think the letters, which were a necessary emotional outpouring due to his loneliness and inability to have relationships, were also part of his marketing plan. He knew he was creating an explanation of his painting which would ultimately contribute to the building of his legacy.

    But I agree with you that when people really WANT to be recognized above all else, they usually do get recognized, and if they go off in a quiet place to work, it is probably because the work itself is more important.

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