Photo by Adam Wiseman/Corbis

Ode to the Hidden Genius: Feeding the Starving Artist

Featured Photo by Adam Wiseman/Corbis

“Did you know that there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?”

Jesse Eisenberg (portraying Mark Zuckerberg) proposes this in the beginning of The Social Network. While I doubt the statements validity, it does make you think. How many people out there possess talent that will never see the light of day?

The world would be a much better place if everyone was able to do exactly what they were passionate about.

Whew, what a statement. I wish with all my heart that aspiring artists could throw themselves with reckless abandon into their art, without having to worry about things like ‘bills’ and ‘making a living’.

But unfortunately we live in reality, where ‘artist’ is often code for ‘unemployed and living off benefits’.

So where does the problem lie?

Here’s a top 5 list of the things inhibiting most people from chasing their art:

  1. Dough
  2. Cake
  3. Cheddar
  4. Bacon
  5. Guac

That’s right. As obvious as it sounds, one of the main reasons artists don’t pursue their passion is from a fear of a lack of financial security. Of course, my experience with this idea is strictly anecdotal, but I’d be willing to bet it extends beyond my own personal experience. I’m sure most people have a friend who loves some form of art, but can’t pursue it for fear of becoming a literal ‘starving’ artist.

Listen, I’m not making the claim that every person who makes art should be entitled to earn $80k a year. I’m not saying the stunning portrait penned by your little cousin out of crayola should be accepted as collateral for a mortgage. I understand that a career in art is similar to a career in professional sports. I get that what you’re due is in part based on what you offer.

Hunting hounds eat with the family and mutts fight for scraps.

So what’s the point of this piece then?

I’ve been thinking a lot on this issue and there are a couple of ways I feel that this could be slowly solved, but the main underlying issue is that there’s a lack of appreciation for art in general society. 

There are a couple of factors that play into this.

Factor #1: “You call that art?”

Pollock 2
Jackson Pollock, Convergence (1952) – or more popularly known as “Looks like something my four-year old did”.

I’m going to use a hypothetical to explain the first. You’re walking in a gallery with your friend. You eventually come across an oil painting. It’s a simple piece with a thin frame. Your friend turns to you and utters those four damn words.

“I could do that.”

This bold faced statement is so powerful that it’s able to ignore concept, context, technical skill, personal and artistic evolution and emotion.

A discerning reader might ask: does the person in question lack understanding, or do they simply lack sensibility?

My thinking is that it doesn’t exactly matter which it isIt could be one or the other, or both, but fundamentally for appreciation to be assigned to art it requires both an understanding and sensibility. Community is vital in this sense, because being a part of a community exposes their members to new ideas, and more importantly, increases familiarity with these ideas. Community is able to teach understanding and sensibility.

Sometimes I’ll be browsing KanyeToThe’s WDYWT thread, and my girlfriend will look over at an outfit and recoil in disgust. A lot of the time these outfits are the ones getting a lot of ups in the thread.

Why is this? It’s because everyone has a comfort bubble around their mind. Every idea that exists inside this bubble makes sense. Every idea out of it is strange or weird. Now, the first time an idea outside of the bubble manages to sneak into the bubble, the mind will force it out. However as the idea sneaks into the bubble more often, the mind is forced to consider whether or not it thinks the idea is really that crazy.  A community helps ideas that you might think are crazy, sneak into your comfort bubble.

Factor #2: “Ugh.”

Usyd
Shout-out to anyone who lives in Sydney – you know what I’m talking about.

Just like anything else on this earth people are interested in, elitism and pretentiousness inhibit growth. It’s also the easiest way to tell the difference between someone who is genuinely passionate about something, and someone who is using their interest in that same thing to generate social capital.

If you’ve ever been passionate about anything, you know that the only thing you want is for someone else to be just as passionate about that thing as you are. There was a time when I lived a video game called Starcraft 2. I would show my mom content people had made about it (like Day 9’s Daily #100) and I would so desperately try to explain all these amazing things about the game and why it was basically the best thing in the world.

I feel that this isn’t the case in a lot of art forms, because the institutions behind these art forms mandate a sort of reverence with the art and cultivate a sort of ‘exclusive’ club. Fashion definitely is guilty of this.

Here’s a question: Why are art galleries always quiet?

My answer goes like this – people think that if you’re at an art gallery, you should be focused on the art. They think that they will be able to appreciate the art more (or look like they appreciate the art more) if they stare at it in quiet contemplation, rather than discussing it with other people, analysing perspectives and clashing opinions together.

I’m not sure if observing art in silence really does help you appreciate the art more, but I’m inclined to disagree. Regardless, I believe the reverence associated with art stems from the idea that ‘I understand this artwork in a way that is superior to you‘.

Factor #3: “Intellectualism is dead.”

In contrast (and probably in part due) to the snobbish nature of the elitist, there’s almost a disdain for art and the appreciation of art.

As a result of this, the people who do appreciate art tend to look down on people who don’t.

It’s a cyclical system that doesn’t allow any changes to occur.

So how do we go about changing this?

I have no idea. In all honesty, this is an issue that I feel strongly about, think a lot about, but don’t really have any solutions to. Regardless, we’ll keep on chipping away at this problem until we figure it out.

I have way too many talented and gifted friends that deserve to do what they love for a living and still be able to keep the lights in the twilight.

Believe me, I’m working on it.

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