This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
Every week, when I read comments from various artists to this site, I always think,
“They don’t sound neurotic, insecure, off balance, and strangely disquieting.”
And yet, in any movie or book with an artist character, it’s a given that this person will be neurotic, insecure, off balance, and strangely disquieting. If it’s a mystery or suspense, the artist is the supreme candidate for villain, simply because he is so peculiar, but then again, he’s also scatterbrained and incapable of keeping together a single, coherent thought. Not the best applicant for planning out a nefarious crime.
“Oh look, it’s an artist,” I always helpfully point out to the Norwegian Artist – one of the most stable, practical, logical, and analytical people I know. “Unkempt hair, vacant yet wild eyes, disjointed thoughts and unintelligible speech – should he really be left alone in a room full of paint?”
It’s an odd stereotype we propound – this tenderly sensitive, fragile, batty creature who produces ugly art others swoon over, and while myth is often grounded in truth, it’s time we tore off our berets, crumpled up the smocks, and realized that, while artists are different, they’re not necessarily weird.
In communicating with artists through this site, this is what I have discovered:
1) Yes, you’re sensitive. Is that so very bad? Without hurting anyone’s feelings here, the muscle-shirted bouncer in a bar is not generally correlated with a heightened sense of aesthetic perception, (translation: he’s big and mean and scary) and we do not associate him with painting floral still life. To see, and interpret, emotion and passion requires the ability to deeply feel. If the bouncer paints, then he’s more sensitive than he looks.
2) While you may be sensitive, you’re not thin skinned. Unless you hole up in your studio and hoard every work that you produce, you’ve put yourself out in the marketplace and been stomped on. But you get up. Repeatedly.
3) Despite being in a brutal, cut-throat, competitive industry, you are not brutal yourself. Week after week I read your encouraging one another. Not only do you visit sites of the other artists who comment, you mention the visit, compliment the artwork, engage the person in dialogue. This is incredibly gracious and unusual.
4) You’re analytical. While the general cinematic consensus of the artist is that he feels, and feels deeply, real people who are artists are constantly looking at different work, questioning techniques, probing into the mind (yes, mind) of the person who created it, experimenting, and figuring out what went wrong, right, and in between.
5) You’re businesspersons. While one part of your brain can capture the lopsided grin of a toddler, another part does the books.
6) You’re insecure. Everyone is. And when you’re making your way through this brutal, cut-throat, competitive environment, it’s easy to wonder whether you’ve got what it takes to make it. This. Is. Normal. It cannot be understated the competitive nature of the art business – a paradoxical pairing of sensitivity with toughness that you don’t readily find in any other industry. It requires a lot of you, and takes a lot out of you.
It’s hard enough being an artist without laboring under the misconception that you are somehow weaker, mentally, than the majority of society.
You’re tough – like Bruce Willis.
And sensitive – like Adrien Brody.