What is the popular conception of the artist? In my oversights as an art installer one overhears descriptions given, and often, the resulting composite is a portrait of a malcontent: artists are held to be childish, bumbling, and irresponsible in everyday affairs.
The picture does not necessarily involve disapproval or unkindness. These deficiencies are again, often attributed to the intensity of the artist's preoccupation with his particular view and to the unworldly nature of the artist's vision itself. The tolerance granted to the absentminded professor is extended to the artist. Collectors, and common art enthusiasts contrast the artlessness of the creative person with judgments on the high attainment of his art. While his or her naïveté are gossiped about, they are viewed as signs of simplicity and inspiration. If the artist is inarticulate and lacking in the usual repositories of fact and information, how fortunate, I have heard it said, that nature has contrived to divert from them all worldly distractions so they may be single minded in regards to their special talent.
This myth, like all myths, has many reasonable foundations. First, it attests to the common belief in the laws of compensation: that one will gain in sensitivity by the deficiency in another. Homer was blind, Beethoven deaf. Too bad for them, but how fortunate for us in the increased vividness of their art. But more importantly it attests to the persistent belief in the irrational quality if inspiration, finding between the innocence of childhood and the derangements of madness that true insight which is not accorded the normal person. When thinking of the artist, many still likes to adhere to the view that there invention in him, or he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer fully there. Although science and technology daily threatens to render mystery from the imagination, the persistence of this myth is the inadvertent homage which people pay to the penetration of their inner being, as it is differentiated from their reasonable daily experience.
Strange, but artists have never made a fuss about being denied those virtues that other people would not do without: intellectuality, good judgment, a knowledge of the world, and rational conduct. It may be said that artists have helped foster the myth. In his intimate journals Vollard passed along that Degas feigned deafness to escape disputations and tirades concerning things he considered false and distastful. If the speaker or subject changed, his hearing immediately improved. Local legend, Joe Reno bolsters around Seattle often wearing a dust mask, and claiming to be Degas or Picasso. Often this occurs during some sort of transaction, either to get something or to trade for something. When on other days, he can be seen strolling around Ballard as even headed as any other person, and very easy to talk to. One can marvel at these acts of bravado , since it must be surmised what we know these days: that the constant repetition of falsehood is more convincing and fascinating than the demonstration of truth. It can be understood then how the artist might actually cultivate this appearance, this deafness, this mis-step, these masks, in an effort to evade the million irrelevancies which daily accumulate concerning their work. While the authority of lets say a doctor or electrician is hardly questioned, everyone deems themselves a good judge or better yet, arbiter of what a work of art should be, and how it should be done, and by what kind of mind it must take to make great works of art. I find this viewpoint, given the state of things within the education system, and even the culture at large, understandable, but boring. I look forward to this changing, and hopefully soon.