“I suffer for my art and despise the witless moneyed scoundrels who praise it.” – El Greco
I grew up surrounded by artists of all sorts. I am the child of an artist, and because my father was quite well known in the art community, people used to ask me if I was going to be an artist too when I grew up. I always said no. What I saw made me not want to be an artist.
When I was older I worked in the art business. I followed a path created by others, down which I felt pushed, but still the decision was mine even if it did not feel as though it was mine.
What I saw there made me seek to escape that world. On the outside it has a certain glamour, on the inside it is anything but glamourous.
There are things I know which I wish I didn’t know, but don’t regret knowing.
One of the things I used to hear repeatedly from people who were not in the art business was – I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like. They often said this with a touch of embarrassment. Some of the people who made this statement were the sort who are looked upon with esteem by others, considered knowledgeable and successful.
The art business attracts powerful people who seek to use art to impress their status upon others. Hype. Optical illusion. Artistic creation of a different sort.
The art business also has a way of turning confident adults into shy and insecure children.
Many collectors and art appreciators cover up their insecurity by listening to someone else’s assessment of what is good art and what is bad art, what you should collect and what you should shun, what is a wise investment and what isn’t. These someone elses who people listen to are sometimes called critics, experts, and they have credentials to confirm this label. They enjoy standing next to a work of art and telling other people what to see when they look at it, giving insider information about what the artist was trying to convey with their creation. Telling others’ eyes what they should behold.
I’ve heard critics do this with my father’s work. I keep quiet and let them weave their illusion of knowing, because a work of art becomes whatever the beholder needs it to be for them, what it means to the artist is irrelevant to others and only matters to the artist. I know what my father thought about his work, before, during and after he created it, and what he thought about those who collected it, those who admired it, those who made a living from it, who sold it, who critiqued it, and those who spun stories about what he was conveying with each stroke of a brush or palette knife.
Many of those in the business side of art hate artists because they consider them to be a pain in the ass. If an artist does not cooperate with their agent or gallery, and artists often don’t, then their value fluctuates. A dead artist is more valuable and more sellable than a live one.
Many artists hate those who are in the business side of art. Many artists feel under-appreciated, and that is putting it mildly. It comes with the territory of being an artist. Many artists are… intellectual to the point of… well, never strike a match at a gathering of two or more artists, they’ll survive the blast, much to the dismay of their galleries, agents and collectors, you on the other hand… unless you’re an artist, of course.
My father did not keep quiet when he was around critics. He spoke out once too often, pissed too many critics off, they paid him back for his words by using their own words to influence how people perceived his work. This happens a lot in the art business. If you think that is ugly, welcome to the art business.
Most of those who are avid collectors of my father’s work, when they look at it see a memory. A nostalgic moment which they cherish and which the image captures and allows them to place on a wall and see with their physical eyes rather than just their mind’s eye. The image opens a door through which they pass and can wander in their wonderland.
One of the subjects my father was known for painting were young boys. He was painting himself, memories of moments from his childhood, a person he was, who had once been happy, maybe, and who was lost in the past. He rarely painted his adult self, his self portraits were always of his child self, through these paintings he connected with his lost child self. One collector only bought these paintings. His son had died. He saw his son in those paintings and having those works allowed him to be with his son and express his love for him by loving the images with his eyes.
My father’s paintings allow me to love my father. Yet I do not own any. I do not own any artwork at all, and like to keep my walls blank. I stare at those blank walls and fill them with the images in my mind’s eye. They may seem bare to the eyes of another, they are not to me.
I was aware from an early age that what I saw and what others saw when looking at the same thing or person was different. I noticed this difference, but I don’t think I understood what it meant until much later, and even now I am not sure that I fully see what it means. Perhaps that is what it means.
The eye of this beholder knows that what it sees… and what it sees is always changing. We create art with our eyes, with how we perceive what we see. We can turn beauty into ugliness and ugliness into beauty with the blink of our inner eye. We are all artists.