Here’s an attempt to produce a short piece with a creative, challenging, and critical tone. I’m using this very space to work on its evolution. I welcome your comments at the bottom.
The ability to imitate nature and manipulate reality creatively has captivated people over the centuries, it is central to our appreciation of art and wonderment over artistic works. The history of art is filled with magnificent demonstrations of technical skill, keen interpretations of the world, and haunting inspections of the individual. Some thinkers have gone as far as to attribute the abilities of artists to divine inspiration, while others have sustained that artists will remain “poor” imitators of nature. Ancient and modern views on art -imitation vs. expression- still conflate. If it is true that artists can only copy and abstract from nature, how far can they challenge it and claim a special status?
For a long time I have been wanting to examine the question of how artists overestimate and underestimate their own gifts. I first heard the claim for the former while reading an interview with André Breton in which he warned artists not to overestimate their own gifts. In the interview Breton referenced Cmte Lautréamont’s dictum that ‘poetry should be made by all and for all’. I had also watched one of the last interviews of Marcel Duchamp where he claimed there was an unnecessary adoration of art today. Both of these observations stuck with me. Maybe it is time for a conversation about our work as artists, I said.
Artists can earn their own prestige or never achieve it. Assessing qualities and merits of artists can be a never ending discussion. Traditionally, a verdict on an artist is given towards the end of his or her career, not at the beginning. When can an artist truly claim to have shaped our modern sensibility?
First, the Renaissance cliché of the artist as God needs to be set to rest. Let us blame Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto’s for using the words il divino (“the divine one”) to refer to the great (no doubt) Michelangelo Buonarroti. Artists and non artists alike must be warned that any sense of greatness can falsely arise from delusion, dangerously absorbing the narcissist type of individuals.
In his essay “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863), French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire invites us to consider a broader expression of what an artist should be. Baudelaire refers to it as ‘man of the world’, someone eager for knowing more, capable of understanding and assessing everything that happens in the world.