Art = Angst
Many years ago I read a book about a very famous photographer. The photographer was quoted as saying; “You have to be willing to die for photography.” The quote was a bit over-the-top, but I think what he was trying to convey was that, to be recognized for your art you must be all in. That’s all you think about morning, noon and night. There’s a heavy price to pay if all you think about is your personal fame.
Some of the most successful creative people, like artists, writers and composers have suffered for their art. One of the greatest composers that ever lived was Ludvig Von Beethoven. 2020 just happens to be the worldwide celebration of his 200th birthday. I believe if you were to ask Beethoven would he give up all his fame to prevent his hearing loss? He might’ve said absolutely, but then again maybe not. He no doubt thought, “Out of all of the people in the world to lose their hearing why me?!” He was considered one of greatest composers that ever lived, mature without the ability to hear his compositions performed; much less the accolades and the applause he could have relished in after one of his performances. You can only wonder why the greatest amongst us are so often presented with challenges that would bring most men and women to their knees in profound angst.
Jackson Pollock — a poster boy for the top reason not to drink and drive. Might’ve thought differently about how he was handling his fame. The lone survivor — his girlfriend Ruth Clingman in Jackson’s fatal car accident often said to anyone that would listen to her. “This was probably the best thing that could have happened to Jackson. If he had lived into old age no one would’ve paid much attention to his art.” Thomas Hart Benton, an early teacher of Pollock lived to be a ripe old age. His idea of fame was depositing the check after he completed a successful piece of art. Thomas often said, “People love to talk about how awful my art is; if it wasn’t for them, nobody would’ve recognized my art at all.” Thomas Hart Benton lived to be a ripe old age, and by all accounts he was pretty happy and content. The story goes that he went to his studio to sign the last painting he worked on, and there he passed away after he completed his signature. A full and successful creative life, came to an end.
Many creative people unfortunately died at an early age some by their own hand; like Mark Rothko, he took his life at the age of 66. Then you have people like Pablo Picasso. The patron saint of many artists. He lived to the ripe old age of 91, achieving greatness and notoriety in his own lifetime as one of the most recognized names in the art world. But was his life a happy one? There have been many books and movies portraying his life, not always accurate, but you learn that he had his ups and downs and quite frankly he wasn’t always a nice guy. Would he have given up fame to live a happy life? Hard to say. Ego is a delicate balance between practicality and managing inward and outward sanity.
There currently are, and always have been very creative people that lived what appeared to be a happy healthy life. An un-calculable percentage of creative people have lived tumultuous lives that did not always end well. It seems like the more gifted you are the more challenges you face. One of the most celebrated artists of all time is Rembrandt. You would never think that this amazingly talented man, would end up having to file bankruptcy, and lose everything. For him it was devastating and embarrassing. Today his art is worth countless millions.
Is it fair to be blessed with amazing creative prowess, only to suffer? You would have to ask each and every one of them. Was it worth the price to be revered throughout history, and canonized as a force in creativity? Will someone like Spielberg or George Lucas span the test of time? Will they be as well known as Beethoven or Picasso? Who knows…fame in this day and age is very fleeting. And it appears that few people are willing to make the sacrifices required to be recognizably successful.
By all accounts Bill Gates is living a happy successful life, and by those same accounts he has served mankind with a technology that improved the lives of hundreds of millions. There are others who became famous because they were humanitarians and magnanimous, think Mother Theresa or Gandhi and countless others. I’m not saying they didn’t have difficulties in life, but they shared one thing in common… inner peace. They understood the value of serving and helping others on their journey through life. Their souls along with their humanness became revered.
It seems to me that if you want to live a long and fruitful life, come up with ways to help or improve the lives of others.
Personal goals in life that are totally self-serving, can and almost always lead to unhappiness. I would rather be sitting next to someone on a bus who is not famous but has a loving heart, a beautiful smile and genuinely cares about other people. I would pick that person on any day, over the self-serving celebrities that garner all the media attention. It’s cool but it’s a very shallow cool.
I personally don’t have to worry about celebrity status. I am not a highly sought after artist. I am— amazingly content to just have the privilege, and the few dollars necessary to make a painting, and of course I enjoy the process of writing about them.
Three great philosophers that achieved fame not always in their immediate lifetime all had one thing in common. They believed that to truly be happy we should all do our best to be kind and loving to our fellow man. Who are these three thinkers that enlightened hundreds of millions of people around the world? Buddha, Socrates and Confucius. After they spent a lifetime trying to figure out how we should be as humans. They all three came to the same conclusion, that magnanimity towards others and ourselves, without being self-serving or prejudice, is the true road to happiness and self contentment. Plus just maybe; creative fulfillment.
Should you be willing to die for your art? That in itself is probably the most self-serving statement any creative person can suggest. It simply means that you are so wrapped up in your own ego, you’re willing to sacrifice everything including your life to achieve the notoriety you crave. I might add that you will be forgotten about; social media notwithstanding. History always forgets more than it remembers and fame does not mean you will live forever.