The despair of an artist.
An artist chooses a life without a predictable outcome. No artist can possibly know whether or not they will succeed in their own lifetime, at the outset of their career. Thus, it is that artists must gamble on a success that may never come. This leads some to despair, when their long sought recognition does not come, in the passing of the decades.
Many years ago, I was invited to an art exhibition. The work was pretty good, in its own way, though not my kind of work. I studied each piece with self-conscious care, for a very good reason. You see, the artworks were by a recently deceased artist, who was the father of my, then, girlfriend’s landlady. I studied each work with particular care to show my respect. The artist had, in fact, committed suicide, in despair at the recognition which had never come to him.
I have never forgotten that evening. What marked it out for me was the gaze of my girlfriend’s landlady. She looked not on her father’s works, which were, no doubt, very familiar to her, but on the guests. She scrutinized each and every face, to see their reactions to her father’s work. She wanted to see that they liked it, that his life’s work had some meaning for them. There was a sadness in her, a watchfulness and an expectancy which had a flavour all of its own. This art exhibition had been organized by her, to let the world see her father’s work. In a way, she was trying to give him in death, what he had lacked in life: recognition. The venue was a very slick one. I remember that well. It had the air of “high art” about it. So she was really trying to ensure that his work would be seen in the right way. There were many people there that night – so she had managed to get a good turn out, too. I studied my girlfriend’s landlady as much as I studied the art. There was something very vulnerable about her. She really needed everyone to enjoy her father’s art. She really needed, in a kind of desperate way, for his work to have meant something.
It was a very sad thing to have to watch. She was trying to do for her father, in death, what life had never done for him. Perhaps she felt she should have tried sooner, whilst he had been alive. Perhaps she felt that what she did now, was too late. The exhibition was her gift to her father – it was also an act of mourning.
Recognition often comes slowly to artists. There are so many artists in the world, each competing for attention, that it is quite easy to be overlooked at first – or even for a very long time, indeed. It is a cliché that an artist should be discovered after death – but that does happen, as we all know. Quite a few artists made modest names, if at all, during their lifetimes, and only grew to legends after death. Perhaps that was what motivated my girlfriend’s landlady’s father to commit suicide – perhaps he saw it as a career move, a means to propel himself to fame.
It should not be this way. All artists should be recognized and supported during their lifetimes. The only way this could happen is if the means to create a name for oneself, were more immediately accessible – the galleries, the magazines and the newspapers. Yet, they are not accessible, and have limited slots available. There is also the matter of taste. Sometimes, innovative work is overlooked, because it does not conform to the tastes of the time: it is only much later, sometimes long after the death of an artist, when tastes change, that people are able to appreciate work. So, that, too, is a factor. There needs to be some means to recognize work independent of the tastes of the time – and that seems an almost incurable condition.
The only practical answer to all of this is for the artist themselves to become immune to the response to their work. An artist should learn to work on, irrespective of the response to their work and to be content whether or not it is accepted. This is the only solution to this age old problem. The artist must learn not to care for success and recognition – for only then will they not miss them, and despair over them, should they not be forthcoming in a reasonable time frame.
I realize that this is a difficult solution. I am proposing that artist’s create without thought of success. Yet, that is what a true artist would do – create because they have to. Perhaps that is why some artists built great oeuvres despite a lack of worldly success: they did so, because they had to. They created because to do otherwise would destroy them.
No artist should kill themselves because they are not being recognized. The answer to that situation is to continue to create good work and to continue to try to reach out and show the work. If luck is with the artist, recognition will come, some day. Despair must not be entertained – for to yield to it, is to destroy all the potential the artist has – and, despite my girlfriend’s landlady’s father’s possible motivation, that is never a good career move, and does not enhance the likelihood of recognition in any way.
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