((Excerpt from: "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal."))
If you're a dead artist, you're screwed.
First off, you're dead. That's bad enough. Second, the rumors, the stories and the people come out of the woodwork. The rats and roaches have a field day when the lights go out. I've noticed this with regard to a number of artists who can no longer defend themselves.
Take Thomas Eakins, for example. Some of the more recent publicity about him has been less than flattering. Now, whenever I see his work in a museum, I think, "Was this guy a pervert?" "Could he have been a pedophile?" It's sad because whatever is spoken or written about a dead person can cast a shadow over how we view them, not to mention their work, forever. Let's be honest. Many folks love his work, but when is the last time you heard someone shout out, "I LOVE THOMAS EAKINS!" Of course, this wouldn't compare to yelling out, "I LOVE HITLER!" or "I LOVE MILOSEVIC!" However, does any living person really want to take that risk? It puts us in a precarious position. What we proclaim becomes who WE are in the eyes of others. You know, the whole perception is reality thing. Perhaps guilt by association is a better analogy.
Here's another one. Andy Warhol. "Oh God, what a weirdo!" You see, I'm doing it right now myself. I never saw Mr. Warhol in person, but if he were alive today, I could CERTAINLY pick him out in a police lineup! We've all seen the film portrayals or read the books. A lot of people either really had it out for this guy OR he really WAS a freak! No, perhaps I should say, "he was eccentric."
And don't even get me started on our boy, Pablo.
Picasso! "Creator," "destroyer," "genius," "madman," "wife beater!" Blah, blah, blah. Let's forget for a moment that these guys were artists. Above all, they were human beings. Like the rest of us alive today, they were flawed. They were either all of those things, some of those things or none of those things. Ultimately, the sad thing is most of the gibberish about them crowded out what they were able to say about themselves and their work.
Today, we live in a society that is SO sexualized and wet with psycho babble (is that what I’m doing right now?). We pick dead people apart. We deconstruct them. We perform psychological and sociological autopsies on them. We treat dead artists and all famous people like laboratory rats in an attempt to dissect their God given talents. What do we end up with? Steamy and salacious assessments of "secret lives" that make for best sellers. Or at least, someone hopes.
Unfortunately, dead artists, dead people can't talk back.
Many people are afraid of living near cemeteries. I once told a friend that while living near dead people wouldn't be my first choice, I wouldn't be freaked out by it either. Dead people don't bother me, it's the LIVE ones you gotta watch! They'll spin their tales and weave their stories. Especially when YOU'RE dead. You're gone and the gibberish begins and doesn't stop. The only thing worse than dying once is dying twice. Death, the second time, by serpent tongue. Death by misrepresentation or at least misinterpretation. The talk may be false, half-truth or completely true. Either way, it comes with the grave. You can count on it.
Hence, a word of warning to all LIVING artists. Dude! (or Dudette!) Keep a journal. Your art is a good expression of you, but it's not a FULL expression of you. Paintings are great, but they cannot talk. Let them hear YOUR story FIRST. Do it now while you can talk and write. You're probably not an angel, but you may not be what others might claim you were after your death. You don't have to be Leo Tolstoy. Just write some general thoughts about your life and work at the very least. Otherwise, they can turn you into something you never even came close to being.
The serpent tongue doesn't tickle.