I know I am going to get myself in trouble for writing this.
Furthermore, I am probably going to get a lot of mails from artists who have come to my “Flash, Crash, Boom, Creative afternoon” lectures.
I like talking about the importance, for an artist – any artist – of being conscious of the significance of the “mythological” aspect of his or her story. I have always argued that the “selling point “ is as much the artist as the art.
Let´s take van Gogh as an example.
A painting he may have given in exchange for rent (100 bucks worth perhaps) has remained intact. It is always the same painting. It hasn´t gotten better with time. It is not wine – it isn´t that it has “aged well” -. It has not acquired flavors, or details in this case, which were not there before.
What has changed in our appreciation of the artist. It is van Gogh himself who has aged well. We have come to appreciate his story, his ways, his dramas, and his techniques better with time. And as a result, everything he has done has become something else. Each one of his paintings have become “a van Gogh”. His “mythology” has overpassed the painter and the flawed human being. And that is where the difference rests.
I always make the point of qualifying this view by pointing out that, by mythology, I do not mean becoming, or asking to be treated, like a “god” –although many colleagues do fall into this trap- , and neither do I mean that you should lie about your history.
It has to do with, simply put, being consciously aware that an artist´s story
is as much part of the process behind the growth in value of an artist work, as is the quality of work produced. People, more often than not, “buy” – engage, become interested, admire, or simply like – the artist first, and then they become interested in the art to the point of deciding to make a purchase (particularly when the price of a painting is above impulse purchase price).
This is so normal, that when in a newspaper we read that a famous painting is sold at a record price, for example, it is generally the case that the title usually implies that it is the artist who has been sold, while in the follow through we learn about the painting, sculpture or whatever it is really behind the news.
We “buy” Picasso, Van Gogh, Rauschenberg or Pollock. And we get – assuming we had the money – whatever painting is available at the time. The reason is twofold. On the one hand we understand there are market forces behind all these sales, as we are talking about investment grade painters and paintings after all. So whatever is available must be worth our while.
And secondly, we are talking about paintings that resist, endure, and grow in appreciation during a long period of time. And these facts usually have a common thread. In fact, each one of these works represent, in pictorial terms, an intricate part of the artist´s life.
We are talking, then, about art that is a visible section of an artist´s passion. And that is also central to this equation. We are buying a piece of an artist´s identity, a piece of his artistic soul. Or at least that which will endure the passage of time. No matter what embelishments the artist may have made to his own story, what survive are the vestiges of his true self.
This is all very personal stuff. We are talking about an artist´s spirit, his or her heart, and in the case of those already gone, the legacy of work that is left behind and provides the artists with that desired immortality of sorts.
Yet many artists, in their desire to get to that special plateau, become mere caricatures of themselves. They make up stories, take on looks that are more for the benefit of others than a symbol of whom they are, and fictionalize their lives to the point of becoming like characters in a pantomime.
They confuse “a personality” with “personality”, they make-up a stereotype of an artist rather than being true to their history and letting others judge and decide. They feed us with fiction, while true art is as real as it gets.
True art is about a naked person being shown and exposed; it is a soul being revealed; it is a heart discovered in its most intimate detail.
Many have “put on an act”. Dali was brilliant at this. But the key word here is “brilliant”. He built an engaging public persona around his personal quirkiness. And all of this pointed towards two ends. On the one hand his renowned love of money, and secondly it was probably his way of exorcising his own childhood demons.
Did we see the real Dali in action? Probably not, but was it a fake personality or was it based on his very real and eccentric nature and life history.
This was the second son of a family who had lost their first child, also named Salvador, only nine months earlier. He looked so much like his dead brother that his mother suspected that he was actually their previous dead child reborn, and it is believed to have acted accordingly. On top of that, and from all accounts, he was quite the sadist as a child. Even to the point of considering that pleasure and pain were pretty much the same mechanism. He used to attack people for no apparent reason, and it is said that he even threw a dear friend off a bridge “just because” (his friend was badly hurt as a result).
So, was he putting on an act or was the act an embellishment – a mythology of sorts– of his own life story and personality? You can decide if there is a difference between this and the fictional character. But keeping in mind Dali´s story, is then the fictional character many artists envelop themselves with, something wrong?
Some will argue that, whether truth, embellishment, or pure fiction, in all cases this is just marketing. And if as such it increases your sales, it is ok. And it may well be so. But the fact remains, and my experience corroborates this assumption, that many artists do end up believing they are this phony façade. They end up playing out the character in their real lives, and to a certain level, they end up getting lost in their own concoction.
So what is the point then?
Very simply: Whatever you do, be true to yourself, or at the very least, try your utmost to keep true to yourself. You are an artist. You are someone whom, by definition, will follow what your heart dictates. And that does not mean you cannot work on your own mythology. If you think about it, your life –any life for that matter – is rich and therefore plentiful in “workable material”.
Your beginnings, your family, your place of birth, your life experience, your ideological bents, your personal attributes and your personal agonies. They all have contributed to your present YOU. Your life is the source of your own mythology, and it is also the fountain from which your artistic endeavors spout.
It needs to be put into an attractive order. It needs to become your life story almost in cinematographic terms. It needs that attractiveness that makes your story something to be consumed, in the good sense, like a good novel. In short, it needs to become a story that people can engage to and become close to, and by doing so, they will begin to know you, and will become closer to you and your art.
There is an old saying in marketing about not falling on the trap of basing your decisions on your own marketing. One thing is what you sell, which necessarily enhances your virtues in detriment of your weaknesses. Something else is believing in your own “enhancements”.
Falling into the trap of that “fictitious character” is part of the learning process. I see many who do fall and never get out of that hole. In the short term it may be fine and it may potentially be profitable as well. But in most cases it will not last. And what is worst, it will take you astray from your true self, which is in the end, where your art is coming from.
©2016 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera