colour pencil on paper
I had this faith, see. As a kid, I believed that artists were people with exceptional courage, creativity, passion, compassion and the kind of focus nature has, a focus fuelled by purpose. This is because they had vision that sees behind, beneath and beyond even the things other people dismiss as common, useless or base.
To my child’s eye, artists managed to see together and at once what others kept separate, things like ‘religion’, ‘psychology’, ‘philosophy’ and ’politics’, even when outside forces worked to silence or control them. I thought this is what gave them what people called talent’, what created their ‘fame’, this and their intimate and enviable relationship with the physical and metaphysical worlds through their media.
I believed artists brought people together by inviting them through their works into a world of personal but inspirational emotions, impressions, expressions, speculations, ideas, understandings, conceptualizations, and imaginings. They encouraged and invited reactions in all who viewed their imagery, regardless of any consideration other than a shared human existence.
This faith is what led me to want to be like them and want to be with and support people like them, modest as our efforts might be by comparison. So I became an artist, an art educator, a gallery curator and an arts administrator. For well over 35 years I have served in these capacities, and in that time I have come in contact with hundreds of other artists.
During that time, I have also come in contact with municipal politicians, municipal employees, educators, citizens with an interest in the arts, members of the general community, government bodies, granting agencies, other curators, dealers, buyers, collectors, children and adult students of art, in other words, with the entire population of personalities who in one way or another are involved in art and culture.
After all these contacts, I now understand that artists are people with the POTENTIAL to be exceptionally courageous, passionate and focused. Alas, I came to see that in fact, while artists I’ve met intend to BE artists, most lack two of the basic traits I expected to find in them: they are neither courageous nor truly aware. Most focus on self-promotion and on gaining a foothold in the ‘art millieu’ but stand by silently as they and their kind are sabotaged in all aspects of their lives. Well, no artists are not silent. I hear them complain bitterly about their lot without seeing them stand up and do the work required to change it.
I don’t think an artist’s purpose should be simply to make art, gain approval and make money. An artist’s purpose should also be to protect and defend Art against all its detractors, those in governments especially who cut, cut and withhold funding to anything related to art and culture while making great gains from artists’ work both socially and economically. They keep artists poor, needy, beholden and afraid to make any waves whatsoever for fear of more cuts. They convince the public that they save money for more important things even as they rob huge sections of said public of their culture.
My faith in artists hasn’t changed. However, I now see that many who make art or who call themselves artists are also beaten down and resigned to their lot. They accept the decisions made for and about them by others as if they’re children who need to be disciplined, and as a result their passion has become so internalized that it is for all intents silent and powerless. They don’t fight for what is their due and they live by what they are told, not least of which that to be respected they must be productive loners hidden in their studios and grateful for any attention at all.
My purpose outside my studio has become to help artists see the lie in that and find their courage. They can start immediately. They can develop relationships with local governments and communities to which they have direct access and become involved in creating their own opportunities as involved citizens who stand firmly behind the arts. It is their right.