Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Art, money and children
sketch for The Pony Man
There always seems to be this distinction people make between 'true artists' and commercial artists or people who do it for money. There's always more respect and downright adulation for the true artists than the commercial hacks, though who gets to decide which ones are which seems to be a fuzzy area and sometimes the artist makes the shift across one way or the other. It seems to be agreed that the 'true artist' has a drive, a compelling need, to put their own unique vision out there for others to see with no consideration given to what others think, or for commercial viability. A need to create regardless of consequences.

When I was in art school, occasionally guest artists would be brought in to speak and show their work. Since I was in the Illustration department and at that time the Academy was considered more of a trade school, most of the guests were successful commercial illustrators. Their abilities and talents were amazing and awe-worthy. Some were in the process of making the transition from commercial illustrators over to fine artists doing more gallery-oriented work.
Acrylic sketch
It was rather hotly debated, the chasm between commercial illustration and gallery art. At least among the illustrators it was felt that in order to be commercially successful you needed to have excellent draftsmanship skills in drawing just about anything, you needed to paint or use some color medium well, and you had to be versatile and adaptable to flow with the changing demands of the commercial marketplace. Fine artists tended to be dismissed rather like one-trick ponies, artists who used gimmicks to get a 'look' that could be hot. Fine art was regarded as just selling out in another way, another approach to grasping at that brass ring. And people didn't talk at all about someone being a 'true artist'; there was the general feeling that every artist was using the 'fake it until you make it' approach.
Acrylic and prismacolor pencil
So there's been a discussion going on in the Utata group I participate in about what defines a 'true artist' versus a more commercially oriented artist who's just trying to put food on the table. And of course I'm finding that this pushes my buttons in any number of ways, considering my background. I think part of the notion being bandied about was that if you were a 'true artist' then you'd feel driven to create significant work no matter what your life circumstances were, and to hell with real life and the need to pay the bills and feed any spawn you happened to have hanging about. An example used was the photographer Diane Arbus and her husband Allan Arbus. Diane was defined as the 'true artist' and her husband was the technician with a camera who did the commercial work and paid the bills, feeding the kids and allowing Diane the means to follow her muse. All debates about Diane Arbus and whether she was a true artist aside, the fact is that she is the famous photographer of the pair and her husband is obscure and unremembered. But he paid the bills. History will remember her as the innovative, fearless, and very controversial, 'true artist'.

Yeah. I have issues with all of that. Most of the famous artists throughout history, who managed to spend the majority of their lives creating an impressive body of work, had a support structure holding them up. Famous husbands had wives who took care of the more mundane details of life, the few famous women usually were either single and mainly supported by their families, like Mary Cassat, or they had supportive husbands (much more rare in earlier times). There are far fewer famous women artists in history than men, and most of the ones who can be named were single, without children. I think it's pretty evident that being a mom and taking care of kids and holding a household together makes it pretty damned hard to continue with any aspirations of being a 'true artist' who has an inextinguishable drive to create a significant body of work for posterity. The drive may be there, but it gets subsumed in the need to feed and clothe the kids. Let's be honest; for almost any woman who has children, taking care of the kids becomes the main, the most important job that she has. She will do anything and give up most everything, to keep the kids alive and as happy as she can manage. And lord knows if she doesn't, she gets vilified as a bad mother, the most heinous crime for a woman. Diane Arbus may be considered a 'true artist' but few even know she was a mother, much less what kind of mother she was. She ended up committing suicide. Not something that generally goes with the label of 'good mother'. Apparently women can sometimes be considered 'true artists' but not usually good mothers at the same time.

I can think of several examples of women that I regard as true artists who are also good mothers. But it seems like most have a supportive partner who supplies the majority of the income and the stability to allow them to pursue their art in addition to being a mom. I can't claim to be a 'true artist' by any stretch of the imagination, but Paul provides me with that sort of support structure. I have my own issues with that and a weird sort of shame about admitting it; I want to think of myself as a self sufficient working artist who doesn't need support. But let's get honest here; it'd be pretty damned impossible to take care of the kids, keep the household functioning as a home, make enough money to support us all, as well as create lots of wonderful art with no regard for its commercial value. If anyone can point to real, actual examples of women who have done all of this and get regarded as 'true artists', I'd like to hear about them. But kids and family come first for me. My choice.
Acrylic and prismacolor pencil
So what is the big deal? When it comes right down to it, I chose right from the beginning to be a commercial artist, working for money. I wanted to draw, but I needed to make money to support myself. I knew I didn't want to work at a soul-sucking day job and then just do my art at night, but I wasn't driven enough with an inextinguishable drive to create my own vision, my own unique art and be remembered forever. Heck, I've never really believed that anybody gets remembered forever anyway, even if deep inside there was a tiny part of me that wished it were so. So I've been a 'hired wrist' for most of my working life so far. Resigned to be a lower-tier artist who doesn't grab the limelight and become a big name. Never been good about the limelight anyway, being a shy person in general. But the truth is that the pieces I've made that I like the best after considerable time has elapsed aren't usually the pieces done for commercial purposes, but the pieces I've created for myself. You know, real art.

Is it enough just to raise the kids? To manage to fit in some art now and then? Isn't that what women have been doing forever? It's a matter of priorities, after all, isn't it? I think we mom-artists get easily dismissed as dilettantes because of our priorities. It doesn't really matter, perhaps, if it's fair; the truth is that I'll still pick the kids first, but I'll still also have that craving to make cool art that I like. That is just a part of me that isn't going to go away even though I don't have much time to make much art for now. Hopefully I will somewhat later.
And lest I sound too self-pitying, let me add that this mom gig is about the best yet hardest job I've ever had. Fame is a fleeting, fickle beast that usually only happens for 'true artists' after they're dead and their work increases in value due to the limited availability due to their being dead. Screw that noise. I'm going to live now, enjoy my kids and my partner and the good life I have now. If I don't end up making a body of art work worthy of being considered as 'true art' by some unknown future critics, I can really live with that.

1 comment:

  1. What about those pix of the sports teams? Is that or could that become art?