REFLECTIONS ON THE STARVING ARTIST

This is an article I wrote a while ago– I decided to reblog it, after reading a blog by Cristian Mihai

“Yes there are struggling artists, and yes, there unsuccessful talented artists (and vice versa……) However ‘the starving artist’ suffering for their art in their garret is essentially a romanticised notion which seems to manifest itself in two different ways.

The first is by autobiographical/biographical history whereby an inauspicious start in life is transformed into success. The story looks back on a poor, unfortunate but colourful upbringing and reminisces about a personal struggle to achieve their goals, despite the negative elements of their early days. It also implies that a certain level of personal suffering, is beneficial, almost mandatory, for the creative soul. I don’t believe there is any evidence that implies any correlation between suffering and creativity. There are certainly examples of artists dying in poverty, only to be ‘discovered’ posthumously, however that doesn’t imply a causal link between starvation and inspiration!

The alternative way of romanticising the concept of deprivation is where it is something to which one could aspire. Aspire to deprivation? Surely not. There is aspiration but there is confusion which relates to a misconception: the aspirational element of deprivation is related to being able to discard conventional concepts of working and responsibility in daily life. Therefore the artist doesn’t aspire to ‘having no money, no food, no shelter’ but rather to ‘not having to go to work, or pay the rent’ and therefore having time solely for their art. (Though I expect they would also aspire to be ‘discovered’ before the deprivation reaches a terminal point!)

A perfect example of this is found in The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham) a fiction but based on the life of Gauguin. The central character is a respectable married professional who turns his back on his life in order to paint. He exchanges a stable comfortable life, for poorer (but colourfully so) lifestyle. Interestingly, his first move is to Paris – another element of romanticism – I would suspect if you asked people which city they would associate with ‘a starving artist’ most would say Paris!

The irony of this is that history seems to demonstrate that the freedom to paint comes from patronage by the wealthy rather than by  abject poverty.

Gaudi …. The Guell family.

Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin etc  …. Charles Saatchi.

Da Vinci …. The Duke of Milan.

I include the latter for another good reason in that though Da Vinci is considered a great artist, he did not consider himself an artist. In his letter seeking the Duke’s patronage, he describes himself as a scientist, engineer and only in the last lines does he say that he paints and draws. There is a simple explanation, painting and drawing were simply skills: he drew, for example, to explain his machines, or to better understand anatomy. They were skills which any educated man of that time would have at some level. Importantly, it also underlines the fact that the concept of the artist only came into being much later, and the concept of art for art’s sake is relatively new. Certainly in Da Vinci’s time what we now call ‘art’ was done for a purpose. Paintings commemorated events, celebrated victories, demonstrated wealth, glorified God, or even simply decorated walls. Self-agrandisement , P.R., yes …. But not art for art’s sake.

Interestingly the wealthy now use ‘art’ for this purpose: rather than having a painting done of ‘family and property’ the wealthy demonstrate their wealth by collecting art and putting their name to the collection. Guggenheim, Saatchi, Frick. Incidentally, this is not meant as a criticism. Better than we are able to have access to these collections, than they languish in truly private collections, it is included simply to demonstrate the connection between art and wealth.

So where does that leave the starving artist: any ideas, Damien? Do you know any straving artists, Tracey?”

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