Tag Archives: myth of the artist

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.

Unwoman

“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

From A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A friend suggested A Handmaid’s Tale and I cannot help responding to it – in my own context, mostly. This book has shaken me somewhat but I wish to limit my musing to myself and not aspire to make sweeping statements or have opinions about the world of men and women. Frankly, I am as lost as the next person. I am merely a revisionist. I revise myself as I see fit (or unfit). Sometimes, I feel like I have no right to opine on anything since everything revises itself.

My “context” is also revised – by men and women alike. I usually feel like a bystander, watching people tell me who and what I am. I revise myself and I watch as others revise me. And I am aware that I am not a victim. This is just how things are, I suppose, within a social construct. I can only bitch and whine. “Take control” they say. And I nod and plod on. What else is one to do?

I know and don’t really know, how others view me. Communication is deceptive. Sometimes, I catch myself believing them. Sometimes, I feel paranoid and withdraw into myself. No harm done. However, I feel a disconnect that I cannot explain or articulate. Is it the curse of the artist? I keep revising the myth of the artist, you see. We watch and we make. We watch from afar. We watch unseen. We have a gaze – the all powerful gaze, that is borrowed from the world and then given back to the world. The audience takes over and we are gone. Maybe we are living on borrowed sight.

This disconnect is powerful. It takes away my sense of self and emotion. It hollows me. Maybe I am living on borrowed self.

“nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”

In the book, the word that struck me most was Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions.

Dissedence is deceptively alluring. I am a person who dissents from established policy only to assent to another established policy. The show goes on. Only half of me is really awake. The other half is disconnected.

Gonzo

“last man standing after an all night drinking marathon” Bill Cardoso, 1970

Hunter S. Thompson’s disparaging innuendoes have me all hot and bothered. Sometimes, you gotta live it to love it. Last man standing, yes? Here we go again. Coherence be damned.

After a half-night of incoherent, inarticulate boozing and a morning of colorful dreams accompanied with a massive headache, I can’t help thinking of Thompson and his suicide. Considering that my evening began with talk of a friend’s suicide, it makes sense. Was I resentful? Did I feel anger? I think I was broken a little. My friend lived the myth, right to the very end. I wish you love.

Visual artists of Pakistan, where are we headed? One of us gave in and ended his life. One can attribute personal disorders to such behavior and shove it under the carpet. I refuse to let it go. We are all responsible. I claim responsibility. I claim friendship and love. I claim empathy. It has been 2 years. I don’t think I can ever forget.

The myth (the goddamned myth) comes and bites us in the ass, yes? Am I fighting the myth or living it? How can I dissect something without objectivity? How can I be objective when I am so deeply immersed? Oh the burden of pop culture. It weighs me down.

Sometimes, nothing can be done. However, I get this nagging feeling that saying that, or thinking it even, is the easy way out. Perhaps I am too emotionally invested? Maybe I need to quit blaming myself and everyone else. But that again, is only natural. Maybe in a few years, I will come to terms with the entire business and have something more intelligent to say about it. Though, I doubt if one can ever be intelligent about the loss of a friend.

Meanwhile, I keep watching them as they live out their fiction and I live mine. Fiction is often the best fact – just like Thompson said. Just like he said.

Condemned to Please, Please

The painter is condemned to please*. The practice of art is cruel. And therefore the artist is terribly romantic and inscrutable; obscure and deliciously mysterious. Art practice becomes even more obscure and informed by glorious muses and the void beyond reason (and so on). This is what they gave us with their history books and their slides. This is what they gave us with their documentaries and biographies. This is what they gave us at art school.

The institution of art school is a strange notion in itself. But I find myself more interested in what it has done to me – and perhaps what I’m doing for it now. I have never really stopped what they started. I am rolling along, absurdly, caught up in my own miseries and the romance of art-induced angst. Do I believe in the myth of the artist? Do I believe in the myth of art-making?

The romance of a torturous, tragic existence is very powerful. Some get so caught up in it, they never leave. Ofcourse, some disregard it completely, but it’s always lurking in the dark corners. While performing the painter, I find myself a little ridiculous. Then I get drawn into the old self and the other rhetoric. And so, I am a romantic soul again. It is a nice self-contained cycle of pleasure and pain.

I am condemned. To please. To give pleasure. Inadvertently, I am condemned to torture. If one is to believe this mythical position, then one must believe in one’s greatness in the larger scheme of things. This causes (in my opinion) a kind of psychological conflict. In this world, there seems to be no time for sentimental introspection. It defeats the purpose of practical techniques and form. In this world, there also seems to be all the time for sentimental introspection. Content must be loaded with profound meaning. In performing the painter (or the artist), one is fucked, really.

The tortured soul of this mythical artist must then be put on display. It must be curated to appear in all its glorious intensity. It must be seen, viewed and taken apart with words and more pictures. It must represent and reflect and “change” something. It must be loaded with meaning, content and comments. The intimidating walls of the gallery consume this tortured, pleasing entity. Or, it is displayed in public to be seen as some kind of effrontry or a tribute to humility. It must define space and time. It must be courageous or cowardly or merely introspective. It is given names like political, psychotic, personal, sentimental, gay, sexual, sexless, present, absent…In this crowd of words and meaning, the myth of the artist and the personal mythology of the artist become one and the same. Or maybe it’s just me. The myth of the artist wears you down something awful.

Inspiration: Arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity.

My Personal Mythology: Desire

When you’ve got paper, you can draw faces. When you’ve got leeches, you can draw blood.

Disclaimer: I started writing this post with an intention to rant about art practice and then it twisted itself into wild introspection. I still don’t know what the practice of art demands from me. I have stopped hoping I will ever know for longer than those moments when I seem to know what it wants. Then we all fall down.

* from The Cruel Practice of Art by George Bataille