The Myth of the Artist
The myth concerning what it is to be an ‘artist’ has developed for centuries. During that span of time the image of ‘the artist‘ has become one of mystery and magic… rebellion and inner struggle-- these myths assume that all artists are born with a power that is not present in other individuals, the ability to cause social change with a single image produced a few waves of the hand, and a sense of vision that goes beyond the physics of natural sight. Ask people to describe what it is to be an artist and you will most likely hear or read similar responses. You will be told that an artist is a “highly sensitive soul”, a “soul searcher”, a “seer of truth” among other things. With these concepts the artist is viewed as a modern day shaman or sage… a person that is highly aware of the human condition and the spiritual aspects of life. The question is… why? Why do we view ‘the artist’ as a person with inborn knowledge that goes beyond the comprehension or capability of others?
Many artists have embraced this ideology in that they include aspects of these opinions within statements concerning their art. If you search artist websites you will no doubt discover examples of this. The artist may discuss “the soul of an artist” and how his or her soul is somehow more “pure” or “true” than that of the general populace. He or she may discuss the “burden” of knowing the “truth” about life. The artist may describe himself or herself as an artist of “light” or “dark”. One could say that such thoughts borderline on superstition-- yet millions of people accept these bold statements as an unquestionable reality.
Why do so many people view artists as some form of superhuman? Why do so many artists knowingly or unknowingly attempt to fill that role? Is it our collective need to find something more in the doldrums of life? Have the magicians and demi-gods of old been replaced with how ‘the artist’ is viewed by so many people in contemporary times? What captivates us about an individual who devotes a great deal of time focusing on creativity endeavors? I ponder this.
I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to embrace the dreamlike quality of this image-- I’m sure I have succumbed to this way of thinking at some point when observing exceptional talent or viewing a work of art that seemed to tap into my inner thoughts. However, I am interested to know if others notice the myth that so many embrace concerning how artists are viewed within the context of society. Do you think the myth surrounding ’the artist’ stems from a need to feel some form of void in our lives as far as imagination is concerned? Or are we to believe that a countless number of sages and mystics are walking amongst us?
In truth, the reality of being an “artist“-- or at least in the case of artists I’ve known-- is not exactly magical nor is it a way of life that is surrounded in mystery. Most tend to struggle with the realm of finance or maintaining worthwhile relationships outside of the studio than with the complexities of existence or inner knowledge. Most live what would be considered a ‘normal’ life aside from the fact that they spend hours working in a studio-- with all the exhaustion, sweat, and in some cases tears-- frustration over a failed piece or exhibit rejection can be a pain!-- that is expected from a mere mortal-- no magic attached. Perhaps if more people observed those aspects of the creative process they would no longer fall victim to the myth that I’ve mentioned-- the idea that artists have ‘something‘ that makes them unique over everyone else?
Consider this an open thread about how artists are perceived within the context of society and how the myth surrounding the image of ‘the artist’ has been embedded into our culture. Feel free to comment with your experiences or observations on this subject. If you are an artist with sacred knowledge that is beyond my comprehension I would very much like you to turn a rock into gold. I could use the cash to buy more paints.
Take care, Stay true,