Debunking the Myth of the Artist?

I stopped writing. Suddenly, I had nothing more to say than the occasional 140 characters on Twitter. But a student showed me something she wrote – something so honest and painful and here I am again. What particularly struck me was the belief of my students that anything was possible in my studio class. Anything. And that, just that, reduced me to tears. What have I done?

In building the myth, I broke my own heart.

This myth of the artist is a notion I need to address over and over – in my work and in teaching young people who want to make things. The sheer responsibilty of it scares me silly. Every day I am frightened of what I might be doing. I am not ashamed, I am simply very, very scared.

I found something I wrote a few years ago in a statement of purpose for something I barely recall.  And all I could read in it was the damn myth:

If I were to really think about it, the question simply asks me who I am. Or maybe, what I am. Or what I think I am. This, ofcourse, existing within the context of art-making and studying art. Then who indeed is this I? And what makes me different or distinct as a student and an artist? I am compelled to make art. Whenever something happens, I make art about it. I don’t even know what to call it anymore. It has become a default process. A reflex action. I document my life through my work. I tell my story through my work. It is my language – a language I’m still learning how to speak.

It is the honest truth, but what rot! It sounds like emotional bullshit.

Can I claim this makes me distinct? I’m just trying to understand who I am. Perhaps my work can help others understand something. I question the functionality of art-making. I question what it can do. I value teaching, which has helped me as I have helped my students. I want to continue teaching for the rest of my career.

And then the justification:

There is a question others ask me, and I ask myself: What good is any of this? What is the point of it all? I cannot know everything all at once but I do know it’s important in the greater scheme of things. Artists represent the time and space of now.

It all sounds so thought out and complete and utter bullshit at the same time. The truth is, I don’t know what good it is anymore. I don’t know if what I do makes any sense. I have no clue.

Yesterday, a friend told me quite truthfully that he didn’t get my work. And he sounded apologetic. And that made me very sad indeed. Why should he feel the need to apologize? You either like something or you don’t. You either care or you don’t. This insane pressure to understand and appreciate art also frightens me. All I did was make a few drawings because I was pining away for somebody who doesn’t give a shit. And then I put it up on the wall to satisfy my exhibitionist urge to display my tragic broken heart. And my friend was apologizing for not getting it and for not liking it as much as he assumed I wanted. So this is what it comes to?

I am sick of the myth. I am sick to death of the pressure this myth puts on other people. Good people who are kind and generous. Also, I hate what the myth does to us – to the artists who live it. To young students who believe in it because you (as their teacher/mentor) look so cool spreading it like it was the absolute. You make them think it is all OK and then they face the world as handicapped as you are. With no weapons but the myth itself.


19 responses to “Debunking the Myth of the Artist?

  1. I’m just glad you wrote again.

  2. it is subjective

  3. you know you are cooling down. And it’s good.

  4. Subjective

  5. i think its the whole art institution environment as well which makes you believe in this myth.I remember you use to tell us dont be mediocre and i found myself saying the same thing to my students. When you step in to the world outside that art institution you hit mediocrity of a layman and then you realize I am no different. I am very very ordinary , I am layman and its painful to realize that.

    • You’re right, of course. However, its not just about mediocrity (remember I said mediocrity was death?) – it is about self-importance. I find that very disturbing. And the art institution propagates the self-importance. We can strive to beat mediocrity but to think we are immensely special because of it is just crap. I don’t know – what do you think?

      • yup i agree because fighting mediocrity in real is very different from just believing that we are above mediocrity by birth or just because we have artistic license. There is fine line between self realization and self obsession and we at art schools are unable to differentiate between the two.

      • I suppose the only thing we can do is to watch out for the myth and to dispel it somehow. I’m glad you agree with me. As art educators, we are responsible and to be aware of that responsibility is a positive thing. Let us not be self important morons 🙂

  6. Trying to satisfy yourself.

    • of course everyone is trying to satisfy themselves,even you by commenting on it

      • Wow, Sundas. I think this person is seriously in need of a real identity. Now they’re commenting using your name. Hey, I just wrote what I really thought and Sundas responded with what she really thought so where do you come in, person with no identity of their own? Atleast make up a fake name instead of using ours heh.

  7. even you (but there is a difference between real satisfaction and an illusion)

  8. illusion= for the sake of argument
    real= not for the sake of argument

  9. very debatable, vague and subjective but thanks for the enlightenment

  10. thanks to you

  11. Thought Proviking.
    But I always wonder what is it that can be done to improve all this?

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