Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You Can't Be All Things to All People :: Open Thread

As I try to do each year about this time, as my Christmas gift to myself, I'm re-reading a book I've enjoyed in the past. I particularly enjoy discovering what I missed the first (or second or third time around). This year the book is "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, and while I'm a bit surprised by the mechanics of the book (didn't quite remember it seeming such a chunky novel the last time), the dialog never disappoints.

One particular bit of musing by Lord Henry Wotton (Wilde's alter-ego in the story) seemed it might make for interesting discussion here. In the age of Warhol's children, where it's not enough to be a well-respected artist...one is also expected to be a bit of a celebrity at a certain strata (did you hear who Jeff showed up with at Larry's party?), this passage stood out for me. Talking to his recent acquaintance, Dorian Gray, Lord Henry Wotton considers Mr. Gray's complaint about their mutual friend, the painter Basil Hallward:
"Dear Basil! I have not laid eyes on him for a week. It is rather horrid of me, as he has sent me my portrait in the most wonderful frame, specially designed by himself, and, though I am a little jealous of the picture for being a whole month younger than I am, I must admit that I delight in it. Perhaps you had better write to him. I don't want to see him alone. He says things that annoy me. He gives me good advice."

Lord Henry smiled. "People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves. It is what I call the depth of generosity."

"Oh, Basil is the best of fellows, but he seems to me to be just a bit of a Philistine. Since I have known you, Harry, I have discovered that."

"Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him into his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but his prejudices, his principles, and his common sense. The only artsits I have every known who are personally delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write they poetry that they dare not realize."
Indeed, many of my favorite artists look and generally act far less interesting than the stereotypical artistes you'll find in literature or films. We always chuckle at how the art world is portrayed in movies, as if it were comprised of half fashion models / half circus freaks. The truth is that most good artists I know (and indeed most of the talented people in the art world in general) would pass unnoticed walking through your average shopping mall in the Mid-West. Talk with them in their studio, though, or walk with them through a museum talking about the work therein, and they'll often simply blow your mind. It is about the art, after all.

Consider this an open thread on Lord Henry's theory that "Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are."

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok does the truth comes out in the art?
Francis Bacon was damaged goods but we all are. Did de kooning hate women? The women series paintings are mind blowing. I don't know any artists . all the ones I would like to meet are dead . Lets say i could have met them it would take all the mystery out of every thing . Kinda like the internet. In the old days you had to work for a morsel of truth.

12/27/2011 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Have you read Jerry Saltz's note on Facebook from December 23? He refers to Wallace Steven's poem, "Poetry Is a Destructive Force." Art consumes its maker; the more of the shell left intact...

Perhaps sociability is a cruel irony, for the glad-handing that occurs, and to some degree appears to succeed, can be gut-wrenching.

12/27/2011 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is loosely connected to the thread I hope - What do you think of the the Blacklots auctions they seem to me to buy into the whole cult of art personality - a kinda groupon for those superior art loving souls?

12/27/2011 09:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Seni said...

My son and I attended the an origami convention last year in NYC where we met John Montroll. He is arguably a pillar of the recent origami renaissance that's going on. Man did he look like a homeless guy short of a shopping cart. Hope he does not read this. You just never know.

12/28/2011 12:31:00 AM  
Anonymous leadpipedreamer said...

Courbet must have looked pretty dapper, and Dali definitely played the part. I don't think you can make a sweeping generalization that artists do not look like artists.

12/28/2011 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

Maybe a more accurate generalization than "often artists do not look like artists", would be "those who look like artists and think they are, are often not?"

12/30/2011 10:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it has been said that, "You Can't Be All Things to All People", yet i am fairly certain you can be an asshole to everyone and no one will disagree.

12/31/2011 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Kathy Hodge said...

Achieving the perfect artist persona takes time and effort. Real artists are just too busy for all that foolishness.

I'm a pretty boring person, this gives me hope that I'll be a great painter some day!

1/02/2012 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Eva said...

Since this post I went back and reread that book. Forgot how good it was and may have to do an entire Wilde visitation.

But I think I disagree. Some of my favorite artists combine surface and substance. Bowie, Patti Smith. OK, they're rockstars. But I like Louise Nevelson ... as artist and art star. Georgia mined her image too. And did you see Cindy in the latest Vogue? I think she's rethinking the whole "that's not me" (in the photos) stance. Or at least embracing that yeah, she looks interesting in her own right and there's nothing wrong with that.

1/22/2012 09:34:00 PM  

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