Why “Artists” Can’t Make Art

Save me from “artists”. I put that in quotation marks because I want to distinguish the specific group of individuals who claim to be artists but aren’t willing to put in the work that comes with the job. I don’t mean “output”, because I know quite a few self-described artists who have generated quite a bit of output, but they have certain deficiencies that will always hold them back from real achievement in their chosen field.

The first is that they will almost universally make claims to “originality”, and will refuse to study what has come before. I see a couple of problems with this. The most notable is that if you don’t know what came before you, how can you honestly speak to originality? Even if you came by something honestly, it may (and likely is) similar to something that has already been done, at least close enough to exist in a school or art that has already been done to death. Study gives you knowledge of what to stay away from if nothing else. Secondary to that is the fact that we are all of us influenced by everything that we are exposed to. Unless you grew up in a bubble and live in a sealed room, you are constantly being influenced. If you don’t take the time to study your art, you won’t even be aware of how you’re being influenced.

The other way they refuse to put in the work, and the more damaging in my opinion, is that (again, almost universally) they refuse to work for money. Some call it being “commercialized”, others call it “selling out”. I call it “working for a living”. Self-proclaimed “artists” who don’t want their “artistic vision” to be “corrupted” or “constrained” by others are artists who tend to go hungry. This refusal to work in their chosen field may have something to do with “artistic integrity”, but likely owes more to ego and vanity. The kind of people who don’t want to be told what to make are the kind of people who are creating for their own amusement and yet expect others to pay them for the privilege. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, most theater majors don’t go into carpentry, and there’s a reason for that: they’re not really interested in working in the theater; they’re interested in the spotlight. Sure carpenters get steady work, but they don’t get applause.

This idolization of idolization is at the heart of the problem. Despite what Andy Wharhol may have told us (and what reality television tries to sell us) not everyone will get to be famous, even for fifteen minutes.  Even worse, a desire for fame is antithetical to true creation. While fame may eventually be a reward for creation, it should be a side-effect, like a shadow that is cast by talent when in the presence of the light of hard work. The shadow is an ephemeral dream that has no substance; it is a signifier that comes after the fact, not before it. Those who focus on it will never grasp the reality it signifies.


2 Comments on “Why “Artists” Can’t Make Art”

  1. delegatecero says:

    Now, not to be critical, as i’m not sure if this is what your article is getting at, but every artist i know is in no position NOT to work ( answering telephone calls, working a bar etc etc) to supplement their ‘craft’ by virtue of the depleting social safety nets provided by government, I get your point, but most of the greats of the 20th century had very weird & wonderful jobs: Reich worked as a removal man; Morrissey a hospital porter; Damien Hirst in a call centre… just off the top of my head, but i’m sure these guys are not in the minority in that respect.
    I don’t know one artist who is sitting in a bedsit waiting for an art dealer or rep from a record label to come see them.
    However, on the other hand you are referring to the ethos summarised by the Simon Munnery joke: ‘Many are willing to suffer for their art, few are willing to learn to draw’, i think i get it a little more. Sadly, artists who do make art that is a little ‘out there’ clearly have no immediate or viable commercial future, so why bother to pander & therefore be someone your not? So someone can give you money to make art you don’t care for? Nah, fuck it. Most of these people are happy making a little from their art & working in Tesco. Those are the people who often have the most impressive, earnest, educated – and ironically- dedicated practices, because nobody bothered to throw money at them telling them they are God. In other words, they have to know their shit to justify to themselves their worth.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      You make excellent points, and frankly I was getting at a little bit of both. Primarily I was targeting the “Simon Munnery” crowd for the most part, because I have nothing but scorn for those who refuse to take the time to learn and understand their craft. To be honest there was a point in my life when I exemplified the type: plenty of talent as an actor, and so full of myself I wasn’t willing to take the time or put in the effort to honestly learn the craft. I wanted it all, right then and there, and the idea of WORKING for it when I thought I already had what I needed offended me. Then I met someone who was twice as talented as I was, five times as dedicated (at least), and a hundred times the worker, and he grinded away at his craft like nobody I’ve seen before or since. It practically shamed me out of the business, because I realized I didn’t have the dedication to make it happen.

      I’ve known plenty of “artists” like that, who are just waiting for “opportunity” to fall in their lap, whether they have the talent or not. The ones who have no talent get my pity; the ones who have talent get my scorn. If you have no talent and you are willing to put in the work you can at least make up some ground, maybe a lot of it, with craft. If you have all the talent in the world but aren’t willing to put in the work, that’s fine, just don’t complain when the good things don’t come your way.

      As for those who have the talent and create art that isn’t commercially viable, again, there’s two ways to go. If they are happy creating their art and don’t care if nobody else likes it, good for them. Owning your vision and being satisfied with it is something to be proud of. But when those same people sit around and bitch all day about how “nobody GETS me” and how they have to work a day job because nobody will pay them to do what they really want to do, all I can say is cry me a river. Lots of us have to work day jobs because nobody will pay us to do what we want to do. If what you want to do isn’t in demand, demanding that others pay you to do it is simply the selfish whining of a child. If you want to get paid to do what you love, you better love doing something that will get you paid.

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