Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Image of The Artist _Then & Now

Mark Irving's article: Artists on the road to martyrdom

Times Online UK (06.07.2006)
about the exhibition:
Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century, National Gallery, London WC2
( ), June 18-August 28

and commented upon in Art-News Blog

The above article and the comments that it gave birth to, are the factors that inspired me to blog my own views (my first ever public-place blog, a late-comer at an advanced age of 54yrs). I suspect the issues discussed here do touch my own personal convictions and feelings as an artist to such an extent that I feel I can't let the matter rest as it is, without adding or contradicting some arguments or just adding a couple of verbal ingredients, which may however be far from reality but nevertheless hopefully make the final dish a bit more spicy and no doubt thereby reinforce the arguments presented.

In all of the fore-going comments, the arguments are apparently based on the premise that all of the creative artwork ( of the genius artist) or the routine productions (of the “artisan” designer) are basically willed conscious acts. I however doubt if the explaining away of a designer, “I am doing this meaningless work, because that is what they want” holds true. I am inclined to believe, that if she/he really wanted to do something different, he/she would somehow find time and means to do so. There may be more subtle reasons behind such a type of rationalisation, in fact in having chosen a specific profession, the person has already made a decision, which may fulfil other more important needs, than just the one for being creative in any specific way. It is more a question of an inner urge rather than rationalisations of the thinking mind, that determines the grade of achievements in fields of all creative endeavours; coupled with a privilege system, that the person has been inadvertently inherited or that has been imposed upon him/her due circumstances ( as happens, when one feels helplessly succumbing to the norm that makes for news and headlines in the media at any given time) or in rare cases, that an artist has willingly chosen _ a specific “episteme” as the determinant for ones endeavours, in tune with personal goals in life. The last being by far the most resilient feature of any good artist.

But chance and opportunities play no less an important role.

There is certainly some truth in artistic destiny!

It may however be
  • associated with talent and an upbringing that reinforces this urge positively, Picasso may be an example. How many great talents all over the world, do grow up in an environment that fosters this potential?
  • An artists stilistic specificity and themes may be incongruous to the times, ahead of their times or just in tune with the time, if the artist is an original content creator and not a sign-of- the-times pattern-weaving message-multiplying voice-amplifying agent. Like a wave, an artists peculiar stil may arrive at its highest amplitude after his/her death in the public or the art-community mind and media consens, loose energy and reappear with new vigour sometime later. These aspects are beyond the control of an artist. True one artist can probably “smell” the public opinion more than the other and consciously tune his output accordingly, but public is a very fickle connoisseur, and anything done with primarily the public in view may have very unpredictable consequences, to say the least. Generally there should be less remorse at the failed endeavour, if I remain true to myself, compared to the one totally dedicated to the current trend or the public opinion.
  • European self-depiction and self-pride as manifested in European Art is as old as Albrecht Dürer. Whereas Cranach was an disembodied eye, Dürer certainly knew and was proud of his worth. With Rembrandt, it gained a new venue (his self-portraits sold well in England, in the new upcoming middle-classes). The new modern episteme in West however appears to have five major reasons behind it.
    1. A post Freudian legacy, that lays stress on subconscious and symbols of new meanings created through indulging in the recesses of the mind, and that gained ascendance, as more and more of the socially traditionally accepted norms (especially religion) lost hold on the society, with the result, the people in west becoming increasingly occupied with their egos. Without doubt Freud had significant impact on visual artist, especially through the intermediate medium of the literary artist, who absorbed Freud without critic for decades after his death.
    2. The modern implicit distrust of any explicit altruistic and ethical declarations of individuals, artist, politicians and corporations, which has lead to a new norm that appears to be something, that one can accept at its face value without having to take recourse to the countless subjective meanings attached to it by the media and the experts:  "I and My Feelings & Convictions!"
    3. The increasingly sharp demarcations in the fields of human endeavour, the over-specialisation,the wide diversity in the media, any of which can function in a post-Duchamp world as a mode of expression and social communication (with a catalytic input by a growing class of media experts and critics)_ facts that squeeze the artists in very small enclosures and niche’s. Even a universal genius like da Vinci would have hard time today to master a few fields of cumulative knowledge, let alone remain up-to-date!
    4. The penetration of the media, the world of Banks and Bourse, Corporations and the auction houses into the secluded world of the academia, radically transforming it’s ethic and episteme and catapulting it into a state of disorientation, where any recourse to an unifying theory of aesthetic would elicit only a condensing smile at an quixotic enterprise. The artist is left more than ever to seek his own answer. And more often than not it seems to be leading to some artists making it well in the market place, with their individual neurosis, obsessions and fetishism and their local Baal! A sign reminiscent of all periods of great transformations in civil societies.
    5. A lack of more self-transcending goals in social fabric, explicitly bereft of values independent of money and what it entails!

Seems as if each true artist has to solve this main dilemma of his/her life alone. There can be no general advice for us all, except that the work itself should give us a sense of achievement and satisfaction rather than the public consens. The creative act itself, and I well believe that it can do that, and it should be a reward in itself, not to be measured with what you can barter it in for or who will hang it on the wall or display it in the show-rooms or how many news-feeds it creates. And if it does imply all that, so much the better. But it seems that one of the most successful artist of our times, as far as these aspects are considered, is in a more-than-in-an-usual way, (I won’t say in a obsessive way, since we probably all are aware of all those busting and inflations of the market place) preoccupied with the ephemeral nature of the glance-metal gold, he even worries about his bank going bankrupt. This is no doubt the result of the lopsided extremes evident in almost every field of modern enterprise, extremes of success and wealth and extremes of anonymity and poverty and what they imply for an creative artist. There seems to be at present no golden middle way existent! Or if there is one, it is inadvertently hidden from the view of the opinion-consumers of modern times!

Make it to the top or go bust!

Mushtaq Bhat