What kind of artist?

“People pay to see others believe in themselves.” – Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

What do expect an artist to be? What kind of artist do you want to be? How does this persona of a particular kind of correspond to your art? How does it influence the perception of others?

There are many models for an artist, musicians, writers and other creative geniuses and so many different examples to follow. None of these strategies are guaranteed to work and so much depends on whom you happen to know and when you happen to be born. We are going to have to separate the myths and stories from the truth… be-careful what you wish for. The truth is boring meetings, sitting at a desk writing proposals, working in the studio… lots of work, even a con man has to work at the con.

In the most ancient sense there the artist as psycho-pomp shaman who by ecstatically manipulating symbols attempts to heal the world, to drive out the evil spirits, to appease the familiar spirits and soothe the soul. If this is the case then question becomes is this shamanic artist a real magician or a fake manipulating the audience?

Do you expect the artist to be naturally gifted or even crippled in some way mentally or physically, attributes of shamanism in some societies? Do you want the artist to be in a romantic way in touch with an endless source of creativity? This source of creativity is often tied up with ideas of race and land or both and raises the questions about the politics of your beliefs in race and land.

Does an artist have to be a genius and if so what kind of genius? – an idiot savant or a mastermind? Do you expect an artist to be technically excellent craftsmen or is the unique expression behind the execution of the art more important? It is praise to call a tradesman a craftsman and it is praise to call a craftsman an artist.  But this hierarchy does not mean that the distinction between the practice (what the person does) and the product is always clear and distinct. Some contemporary craft has become conscious of itself as an art, pushing the definition of craft to the artistic limit and questioning the very distinction.

Do we expect the artist to do everything themselves and suffer the fate of the sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert who died suddenly exhausted from carrying the clay for his latest monumental sculpture. Or do we want artists to work with a team of curators, craftsmen, technicians and engineers in a list so long that if it were printed it would rival Hollywood movie credits?

Is the artist a loner or part of the in-crowd? Are they expected to be the court jester, King Lear’s all licensed fool, pleasing royalty by making jokes about them? Or a prophet in the wilderness?

There is the myth of the artist coming from nothing, the discovered by the art world and becoming an instant success (after twenty years of hard work). Does that mean that there is an oversupply of crypto artists, hidden geniuses waiting for eternity to be discovered? Or do you have to create your own fame like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi? Media manipulation in the art world is not new; John Martin was a 19th century painter and self-publicist who had blockbuster exhibitions. In the post-YBA era do you expect artists to be famous superstar (the word was coined by Ingrid Superstar one of Andy Warhol’s stars) or do you expect them to be starving in a garret (like La Bohemia)?

Crypto-artists, zombie artists…

The idea of the artist as an authentic individual who creates their own identity through their work – what does the world expect of an artist?


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

2 responses to “What kind of artist?

  • rore

    the world is too vast to know anything of itself other than to give a contradictory answer, but melbourne the supposed “art capital” of australia, to me, doesn’t seem that advanced in it’s ability to accept the movement of arts and occasional advances of the subcultures within is continually hampered by the more commonly held ignorance of the many.

    I feel artists are viewed as more leeches by the mass tv watching populace, there is of course exceptions to this. In general education about the value of arts is lacking lacking from many teachers anyway, but that may have just been my rural school.

    Cultural apathy and ignorance over the role art takes in society and it’s eventual dissolvement into the modern landscape indivisible from the now.

    Because what role does art take now days, “street art” is now used to sell in advertising.

    Any new art is only going to be recognised by a select few people, because most art is in such a raw and primal state that only a few far thinking people can see it’s culmination through it’s many rebirths and reconstitutions into something that will one day also be used for the sell or the shirt or the norm, the widely accepted medium defining the future now.

    If the artist is one who can withstand all the pitfall of the “modern reason” and produce a vision which is new and defining perhaps we should not be asking of the world what they think, perhaps it is in the artist we should address questions with the fortitude and maturity of humility to accept an answer that may challenging in it’s entirety, from delivery to silence and all in between.

    Great posts by the way. Have been enjoying them.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks for the comment – I wanted to get both artists and the people interested in art (basically most of the readers of this blog) to think what they expect an artist to be or not to be. Melbourne and Australia in particular needs to think hard about this subject because as you point out there are repeated problems with education in the arts and with public acceptance of any progress in the arts. Wanting artists to be a modern prophet in the wilderness is the diametric opposite to wanting artists to serve the court (street artists receiving commissions from corporate royalty etc.) and the situation is easily reversed by either a change in court tastes and accepting the vision of the artist or the artist adapting their vision to suit court tastes because they are tired of the harsh conditions of the wilderness. This endless cycle of fashions does not provide for any progress in the arts only rejection and replacement of the current fashion.

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