The older I get, the less tolerance I have for meaningless sentimentality. Particularly about artists.
Now, sentimentality is fine. I get teary-eyed at the end of Crouching Tiger, and I nearly burst into tears when I opened up The Demon-Haunted World shortly after the death of Carl Sagan. I like the smell of freesia for no reason except that my grandmother had powder that smelled like it, and I get occasional desperate cravings for green beans in buttermilk, despite the chaos such a dish would doubtless wreak upon my system, because of aforementioned grandmother. Sentimentality is fine, provided one doesn’t wallow.
And it’s not even the meaningless statements about art, like “Art is anything that comes from the heart!” (presumably including heartworm larvae and one’s aorta.) Some of them are so fragmented that I can’t even quote them properly, and sound more like particularly painful Hallmark cards…you know the ones. “A hug is a wish your arms make” or “A smile is a poem on the front of your head” or whatever. Insert the word “art” in any of those and you’ve got it.
Well, a retch is a hug your stomach makes, but what gets me is the romanticization of artists.
Artists are not art fairies. Artists are not unicorns or happy bouncy arty sprites or painting saints. We do not exist in some kind of mystic realm of imagination, unfettered by surly bonds of prejudice, subsisting purely on Emotional Meaning and furthermore, we are not neccessarily good people. I think I want that tattooed to my forehead. Artists are humans, all of ’em. (I’ll leave off the painting pigs for the moment. I’m not convinced. When a pig dashes off something representational on a napkin, THEN I’ll believe it’s doing abstract art for a reason, but since I’ve yet to see a good abstract artist who couldn’t do a damn fine bit of realism when they wanted, I’m gonna apply the same criterion to the pigs. Where was I?) Artists are products of their time. They are not open-minded, PC souls dedicated to making the world a better place at any greater proportion than the rest of humanity. Artists have been horrible, nasty, misogynistic, racist, sexist, misanthropic bastards, and you know the funny thing? A lot of ’em were brilliant and produced work that makes you want to fall down and weep. And a lot of lovely, wonderful, earnest young hippy types working the counters at craft stores are delightful human beings who do volunteer work and who’s artwork just plain doesn’t make the grade. Any grade.
Artistic talent is not a gift bestowed upon the noble. It’s something you earn through sweat and practice and lots of bad drawings, and bad people can work just as hard as good people. Say what you like about Attila, he wasn’t a slacker.
Artists are PEOPLE. Artists do not embody all the best traits of humanity, but to hear some people talk, you’d think we were mystic beings of creative power and vision with a third eye in the middle of our foreheads. We are open-minded and not bound at all by convention. Any convention. (You violate my convention of personal space, and I’ll smack you.) We embrace new experiences with delight, no matter what. (Suggest SOME new experiences, and I’ll suggest you meet Mr. Fist.) We’d never be caught dead eating meatloaf regularly. (I eat meatloaf regularly.) We are evidentally supposed to be deeply emotional and produce all of our artwork out’ve said Deep Emotions. Now, most of my more blatant deeply emotional artwork is produced out of a coldblooded “Eat this up, suckers!” mood that strikes at random, but I’m willing to accept that I am a bad person. But god, if I had an actual deep emotion, I’d be bloody ashamed to use the standard Deeply Meaningful tricks on it, many of which are agonizingly trite. And if I hear one more time that people would rather see a crappy but Deeply Meaningful painting rather than a brilliant but non-emotional one, I may begin projectile vomiting, because I’m telling you, artists can LIE. A lot of illustration at least is pure lies, particularly in fantasy–there aren’t dragons, there aren’t gryphons, there aren’t women with a rack that size and a waist THAT size who would be willing to stand around wearing gold speedos on the back of a nonexistant hydra, and if we can lie about that, lying about emotion is child’s play. I can sit down tonight and whip out something that looks Deeply Meaningful and which will cause a lot of people absorbed in their own misery to go “Oh…man…I feel such an…emotional connection, man…” but the fact is, they’re connecting to something that isn’t there. Practically anybody can put their emotions on paper, but a good artist can put stuff on paper they’ve never even felt before, aren’t currently feeling, and sing along to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” while laying down washes on scenes of grisly torture.
Don’t assume the artist is feeling the art. They may be, but they may not be. Don’t assume the artist is good or kind or noble or open-minded or wonderful–some artists are spectacular human beings I’m proud to know, but that’s a personal virtue, not something conveyed by the profession. Some are dissolute bastards. Some people suck.
It also apparently helps if we’re crazy, deeply depressed, or have some other wonky mental wiring, but that’s a whole rant in and of itself, and I won’t get started, because it’ll make me froth for another hour or more.
Also, artists are evidentally supposed to not be elitists. I dunno if nobody’s supposed to be, or if artists just get yelled at for this, or if I only notice it because I, myself, am an artist, but I’m perfectly happy to say “Why, yes, I AM an elitist.” I like things that don’t suck. Sue me. I certainly am not going to be mean to anyone who’s not up to my aesthetic standards, since half the time *I*’m not up to my aesthetic standards, but neither am I going to hang such work on my walls. I just don’t get the problem there. Don’t we all like stuff that doesn’t suck? Is this just an outgrowth of the assumption that good artists must be saints of the brush? That it’s not enough we’re open-minded, PC, and dedicated to making the world a better place by sharing our deep emotional whatevers, but we’re also egalitarian, supportive and nonjudgemental of the one thing that, if anything, we know enough about to judge?
Skill is not virtue. Skill…is…not…virtue. We are no better and no worse than anyone else. Artists have supported repressive governments. Artists have committed vile crimes. Artists have painted beautiful, defiant protest works. Artists have uplifted the soul. Don’t be surprised when artists turn out to be jerks, just because they make beautiful art, but admire those who are nice, caring, helpful souls, which is a skill in and of itself, in addition to making good art.
Don’t assume. And especially, don’t romanticize.
Having said all that, have some art that came from Deep Emotions I feel about flushing dead goldfish.
Sewer Hippcampus (Deviantart, be warned.)