Pop Culture
May 25, 2010, 06:28AM

What it means to be an artist

And an "artist."

I don’t like it when people find out that I’m an “artist.”

I don’t even like the word “artist,” because it gives the implication that I’ve been able to condense the entire history of art into something objective and reconstruct it into something that isn’t completely asinine. If I felt anything other than the shame that artists are supposed to feel, I’d probably feel like an abject fraud. If you’re an artist who doesn’t exist with some variation of the phrase “What the hell have I done with my life” you probably suck. Horribly. It’s probably just misplaced confidence, and it keeps you from improvement and exploration.

The worst thing that comes with being an artist is that people want to introduce you to other artists, and almost invariably, those artists are horribly untalented hacks or are far more successful than you—and alarmingly often, both. We artists are apparently a rare breed with supernatural skills who are relegated to drawing pretty good circles when the situation demands it, telling you if your couch matches your wallpaper, or possessing a complete willingness draw a picture of your dog for 20 bucks.

I do not want to come across as an elitist; that’s the stereotype that I actively fight against. If you can’t have fun with your art, there’s no point in doing it. I have an open mind (and a degree in fine arts) when it comes to the art that I enjoy, but I really hate being around most artists. The back pages of Juxtapoz are invariably composed of photos of a cavalcade of people desperately hoping to be noticed by showing up at offbeat cultural events. Maybe my utter disgust at that scene will perpetually keep me at the edge of the profitable sectors of the art world, but at least I’ll get out with my soul intact.

Recently, a co-worker happened to meet another local artist, and insisted on selling the merits of my artwork to them, along with my web address, the hours I was at work, my waist size and medical history, and the last time that I cried. This artist had plans to set up a table at a local craft fair, and I was ultimately invited to join in on the festivities. And, you know, pay $30 for the privilege.
I’ve had a very slow, arduous climb to attain limited notoriety. I’ve been in art shows with some of my favorite artists in my niche, I’ve been shown alongside Nick Park, and recently, and I’ve done some professional work with Topps and the Star Wars franchise. At this point in my career, setting up a folding table at the Turtletown Radish Festival with little paintings of Yorkies feels like a step backwards.

Conversely, I’m inclined to think of Michel Gondry. As a film director whose name carries some weight, I was amazed to see him hanging out at the small Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art Festival a few years back—folding table, weirdo comics, and sweating it out just like the rest of us. Gondry is unpretentious, and completely willing to hang out with his fellow artists at a small comic festival. There’s a lot to be said for that, but he’s also reached a level of success where he’s unimpeachable.

So, am I a complete tool for turning down an invitation to sell art junk at an upstate New York craft fair to pseudo-cultured moms who gush things like “Cute!” at the canvases you struggled over, and old ladies who need something to throw over their couch? Do you discredit yourself by taking such wide steps backwards from your goals for the remote chance of making 50 bucks from the proletariat?

Do you really want to spend a day hanging out with a dude who describes himself as an “outsider” artist?

I’m going to stick with obscurity over popularity with the local moms, and chalk it up to an unflinching dedication to my goals rather than arrogance.


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