I don’t know what it is, but in the past few months, I’ve had quite a few people literally say to me …
“Michael, I know you don’t really know me, but I just wanted to tell you that I’m an artist!”
Okay … And???
It usually happens via email, but also in person when they learn I’m an art writer. And here’s the thing … I always detect this looonnnggg, siiiggghhhh of relief when they tell me.
They always say it as if they’re in confession … like they’ve been holding it in for a very long time and now that they’re in a safe place, they can just tell someone.
I can literally feel them exhaling as they say it. They’ve been thinking about “coming out” for a long time and now, the time is finally here. I kid you not. It almost makes me feel like a priest.
It feels like they’re revealing this long held secret that they’ve kept buried far beneath the bushes in the backyard for fear that they’d lose dear friends if word got out.
Sometimes, I want to respond by saying …
“Great! Now what do you want me to do with this information?”
Of course, I’d never say that. Although, I kinda just did. Didn’t I? Still, that would make me a jerk. I’m always happy to hear this news and I try to be encouraging … but here’s what troubles me about this …
I don’t want to over-dramatize this point, but I do think that there’s still this stigma about being an artist or creative person in our society. We value creativity, but we don’t want people – namely men - to be, “too creative.”
You know EXACTLY what I mean. I think you do.
I don’t think the stigma holds true for professional artists who’ve always been “out of the studio.” I think it’s more about those who’ve wrestled with their inner uncertainty about what being an artist means ... and what people may think of them when they “admit” to being artists.
Of course, some people don’t admit to being artists because they may not believe they’re talented enough to claim the title. That’s another essay for another day.
Ultimately though, this is sad because I have yet to see a doctor or lawyer or teacher who is sheepish about what he or she does. I mean, let’s look at former President George W. Bush. We didn’t really hear about him being an “artist” until after he left the White House.
Of course, Mr. Bush actually may not have even picked up a paint brush until after he left the White House, but surely he felt an inner calling of some sort toward art. No?
I just keep thinking that this guy would’ve been a fantastic ally to the art world WHILE he was in the White House.
I mean, he leaves Washington and the next thing I hear … he’s an ARTIST and he’s got THESE paintings to show for it!
Recently on TV, I saw a few of his large scale, figurative works and he’s gotten really good. He literally came out of the White House and became a painter. He may have painted while he was President, but I don’t recall hearing that. Do you?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy. I don’t blame Mr. Bush though. We all evolve at our own speed. New things replace old things. The same holds true for us all.
I think the stigma of “coming out of the studio” as an artist mainly remains an issue for men who are artists. Even though the art world continues to be dominated by white men, lots of people still hold the contemporary art community suspect. You can almost hear people asking …
“What is he REALLY up to?”
“Art? Why are we JUST NOW hearing about this?”
“Did you hear? He’s ‘into art!’” Wink! Wink! Cheshire cat grin.
There’s no need to belabor this point because no one is going to admit to saying or even thinking these things, so let’s move on.
But here’s my point …
Millions and millions of people visit famous art museums all over the world. We love art as tourist attractions, but closer to home, we tend to hold it at arm’s length. It’s as if people think contemporary art is going to harm them in some way.
Look … let’s just say it.
Contemporary art still seems flighty, lightweight and “gay” to many people. No offense to our gay friends, but you know exactly what I mean. I think you do.
I love it when people tell me that they’re artists. There’s something very communal and human about it. When they tell me, it feels a little like a family reunion.
It makes me feel that perhaps all of my time spent with art and writing about it has been worth it. Maybe I am doing something worthwhile. Who knows?
When artists come out of the studio as artists, it really helps to put art back on the public agenda … people will talk about art and want to see it. Artists are carrying the entire art world on their backs. They shouldn’t also have to carry the burden of being ashamed of being artists.
Contemporary art will never take its rightful place among societal priorities if people don’t stand up and step up for it. That includes all of us.
The person who said, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” had no idea that we’d actually be living during a time when we’re devaluing true, hard-earned education. Not just getting a diploma, but earning an actual education.
We really do need creative people to stop being so mousy and shy about their art and their lives. We need more artistic men to shed their boyhood and be actual men by standing up and defending contemporary art … among other things.
Why? Because society doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. We need artists to rise and hold up a mirror to society. We need artists to tell the world what it doesn’t know … or what it doesn’t want to face.
We actually need to encourage young boys (and girls) to explore their creativity and NOT suppress it out of fear of how they may be perceived. Helping kids connect with their creative nature might prevent them from acting out violently later in life.
Artists, come out of the studio! Keep coming. All the way. Be creative.
RISE! UNITE! ORGANIZE!
What’s that beyond the horizon? It looks like, “The New Renaissance.” Finally. What took so long?
And with that, let me just say this … for all of you weekend warrior, hobbyist artistic types, when you come out and tell me that you’re an artist, please don’t be offended when I pump up my testosterone and ask …
“You’re an artist? Cool ... Are you any good?”