Monday, October 11, 2010

Superstition Aside, Art Can Be Powerful

Superstition Aside, Art Can Be Powerful:

It has been said that artists-- or at least their artwork-- have a way of bringing people together. However, the opposite can easily be said. After all, some artists make a career-- intentionally or unintentionally-- out of being forced into the role of social and political provocateur. One need only visit a New York City art gallery, read a mainstream art magazine, or visit any of the top art museums to take note of how controversial works of art dominate by seeping into our cultural dialogue. More often than not said works spur notions of hostility rather than some ideal of peace. Yet the romantic image of ‘the artist’ as great communicator and bridge builder persists.

I’ve long let go the fantasy of only viewing artists in a noble light. The truth is that an artist is just as human as you or I-- flaws included. Thus, it is of importance to explore this myth of ‘the artist’-- and how artists are viewed by the public. True, some view artists as lazy sods who are useless as far as cultural change is concerned. However, the idea that artists are all fighting some perceived notion of the ‘good fight’ continues to reign in our collective viewpoint. After all, it does not take that many Google searches to find that the myth is alive and well.

As I have mentioned on this blog in the past-- 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-- and how his or her artwork will make a “real difference". Words and phrases that feed the myth.

With this myth we can go further still! The artist may describe himself or herself as an artist of “light”-- or that his or her artwork will somehow bring world peace, feed the hungry, or save the kittens. Sarcasm aside, one could say that such thoughts borderline on superstition-- yet millions of people accept these bold statements as an unquestionable reality-- or at least something to consider.

In truth, artists ranging from Shepard Fairey to Sarah Maple have burned as many bridges as they have built no matter their respected intentions. In that ‘light’ one can see that artists are not necessarily the figureheads of social change-- nor are they the saviors of the planet. They are simply people like you or I-- the only difference being that they give voice visually on matters important to them. Yet the myth dominates within the context of artist statements, blogs, and even on the front page of Yahoo at times-- we are to wonder at the countless number of sages and mystics that are walking amongst us.

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.

This myth of ‘the artist’ has been built up over centuries-- so I doubt it will change anytime soon. That said, I feel that it is important to see the power of art without petty superstitions involved. Can a work of art change the world? Doubtful-- but it can certainly change an individuals opinion or the direction of ones life. That is where the power of art can be found-- it cannot be found in ego stroking notions of spurring total cultural change or viewing an artist as if he or she is some enchanted figure. It is best to let go of these superstitions in order to find the real power of art. What say you?

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 paint.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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