The Artist Stereotype

There are many artist stereotypes- the starving artist, the emotionally unstable artist, the passionate artist, the artist with with substance abuse issues, the artist who doesn’t particularly adhere to everyday rules of hygiene :), etc. We may have this idea that all artists are free spirited and without a care in the world, that all they care about is making art.


This image is reinforced by the media (anyone watch the episodes of Friday Night Lights with Richard Sherman the artist?), but also, for example, the supposed story of Van Gogh cutting his ear off (thanks for the bad PR, Vincent). Anyway, at the TedxDePaulU talks, Scott Berkun brought up an interesting point. While we have this idea of artists being these stereotypes, the reality is that the everyday of an artist is actually quite boring to most people. He said that most creators never share the darker or monotonous moments and I think he is right. I never really share my failed work, because I don’t think anyone would enjoy it. I never really share the amount of research and the amount of going back and forth and fixing mistakes and figuring out logistics because sometimes, even I find it boring.

Berkun mentioned the documentary Mystery of Picasso (which I’m including below) and said that it was actually quite boring. And while I’m happy to watch it because I have a specific interest in this area, I agree that most people would have a hard time enjoying 78 minutes of watching someone draw. Even if it is Picasso. As Berkun points out, there is no plot line, there is no drama, there isn’t even a finished piece we can reference as all the pieces were destroyed after the video. It is simply Picasso at work. And I think that’s easy to forget when looking at work. It is not likely that the work just came out like that on the first try, it is unlikely that there were no mistakes and it is unlikely that it was made quickly (there are exceptions to these statements, of course, as there are with everything). It is very likely that a lot of work went into the piece. Looking through my own work, I can tell you that the smallest of pieces usually took weeks, the larger pieces took months, some even over a year, but it’s hard to see that and it’s even hard for me to wrap my mind around that looking back. It’s funny because I sometimes find myself questioning my own passion for art on those boring days when I do nothing but check for mistakes or try to work on logistics or fill out applications. On those days I have to actively remind myself that no matter what I end up doing with my life, I will always have to face the monotonous practical end of things and I will always have to work hard. I can only assume that this is what gives me that great satisfaction in the end, when I finish a project or when I reach a goal; the knowledge that in the end it will be worth it keeps me powering through. Also, the idea of working this hard towards anything else just sounds kind of dreadful :) any thoughts on any of this?

Having said that, here’s a link to the Picasso documentary that you may or may not enjoy.

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