The profession of an artist should come with a disclaimer ‘do well, but not too well’. Artists appear to tread a thin, permeable tight-rope labelled ‘public-image’ in ways sometimes unique to creative professions. Shuffling between two extremes: the ‘starving artist’ who carries on tirelessly for days without food, water or company, only to emerge into the light once their work complete; and the promotional polymath who produces work and sells it in what appears an effortless symbiosis.
In the recently premiered musical feature film Art Is… written and directed by British film-maker Barry Bliss, Lulu, a talented young artist struggles to cope with the pressures leading up to her first solo exhibition. His protagonist tackles the dual difficulties of navigating the creative process and frustration with their environment:
Lulu…would be a painter struggling with her life and work, but unlike her predecessors she would, in her own fashion, be more successful…addressing the very real fear of dilution of one’s own vision in the face of commercial success.
Fighting-off the fear of its own dissolution, additional funding for the film was acquired through the crowdsourcing funding platform Indiegogo. Intrinsic to the story of art history, from Renaissance Europe to feudal Japan, is the patronage system. From Leonardo da Vinci to William Shakespeare, kings, popes and aristocracies have supported artists. Is it a problem that art consists of ideas but can also be a commodity which is bought and sold?
When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair… Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.
Minimal artists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd respectively used mass produced objects and basic structures as materials to get closer to what they called ‘the essence of art’ in a move away from the gesturual, identifying marks of Abstract Expressionism. Bristol-born street artist Banksy continues to uphold his anonymity and create graffiti art around the world and yet the walls his works are painted on are now being protected and sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is there something to do this appearance of simplicity that when combined with financial success feels inauthentic and phoney?
Is being a commercial success the death knell for your artistic ability? Is selling art and an art in itself? Can you choose between art and living the life of an artist? In the age of crowdsourced-funding and the internet, does the ‘starving artist’ exist anymore? Discuss.