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.