Why be an artist?

A good friend of mine very recently shared a post from Facebook where someone shared how she responded to the question of why people should be artists–because everyone is familiar with the phrase “starving artist”–and not switch to a career in technology because that’s where the money is. Her response was to invite naysayers to isolate themselves for 30 days without music, books, films, television, art, or dance–and I would add they should be in a plain make-shift shack or a blank-walled cell so they do not see any architectural structures–and see what life would be like. I agree with her completely.

I believe true artists follow their passion knowing full well that they could remain penniless and unrecognized all their lives, and if they are among the few fortunate enough to be discovered, they might earn something out of it, and possibly be revered after they die. Since the Renaissance ended, history shows that artists are among the most mistreated people–Van Gogh hardly sold any paintings while he was alive; Edgar Allen Poe was penniless, Sammy Davis Jr. owed millions–and the pursuit of any field related to art is discouraged because everyone knows most artists can’t live off their art.

The arts that receive the most attention are performance arts, and yet, unless you are a top-rated film actor or a record-breaking recording artist or singer, or a consistent best-seller novelist, you’re probably scrounging around for a job most of the time. Even big-name stars might be in the limelight for a while, but when the public transfers their adulation to another star, previous stars have difficulty even getting a bit-role and some even end up isolating themselves and living in seclusion because they are unable to live with the loss or their adoring public and the loss of their source of income. Among writers, it is no better. As long as you write books that the public eats up, you’re fine; the moment they find someone else to follow, and you are unable to churn out work that sells like hotcakes, your books are relegated to the back shelf or worse, taken off the shelves. Architects are often not even considered artists, and yet the artistic creations of the greatest architects live on long after their names have been forgotten. How many people still know that the Guggenheim Museum, along with thousands of other magnificent structures, were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. How many people can name the architects of the Notre Dame Cathedral? Big Ben? Westminster Abbey? the Eiffel Tower? I could go on and on, but unless you’re a fan or student of architecture (or a trivia buff) you probably can’t shoot off their names from the top of your head.

Non-performing artists, such as poets, essayists, short-story writers, theatre performers, dancers, crafters, and architects, to name a few, often have greater difficulty making ends meet. While a great number of artists dream that they will be recognized some day and start receiving what their creations are worth, there are still more who simply create art because it is the best thing they do and the only thing they want to do. Thank goodness for all the reality shows where unbelievable talents are discovered, but there are several arts that do not lend themselves to performance, hence more limited and exclusive audiences.

True artists create art not for the recognition they receive, whether pecuniary or acclamatory, but for the fulfillment and satisfaction they achieve from the mere act of creation, because everything they create is an extension of themselves. True art embodies the artists’ souls and the mere expression of artists’ deepest thoughts and emotions is reward enough. For their art to be appreciated and valued by others is an affirmation of their existence. To make money is merely icing on the cake.


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