“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”
“Immature Poets Borrow. Mature Poets Steal.”
I have had these two quotes knocking about in my head for a while, live-ins that have overstayed their welcome. The first we attribute to Picasso, the latter to T.S. Eliot. Stravinsky has his own variation. It takes time to understand these statements, to get at their marrow, though they seem simple enough.
Art is a mystery to anyone outside of the maybe those twenty or so people claiming to have a cohesive grip on the Art World, whatever kaleidoscopic chimera it happens to be at this moment, whether it’s nostalgic/romantic, natural/contrived, passive/reactionary, or sublime/vacant.
The greatest joke in Picasso’s statement is that he very clearly wanted to be associated with the Artist as Genius archetype (and nobody but a few bitter unknowns in Postmodernism’s soup here, well after he’s been dead for decades, dare to argue against his embodying that). His definition of artist extended into the poetic and musical arts, whereas public education has, for America, at least, marginalized it into a hobby. Humans need art, I cannot stress that enough. It’s food. Stored information on a sunbeam of thought, a record of a thought’s passing. The human story is so simple it seems complex, and the devil is as always in the details, but one should recall that a letter is only a symbol, a word only a character, a sentence only a section of canvas, a layer of gesso first, then a well-worn trope dollop of this color or that. Let the devil worry about the details. What style of painting would you consider this short essay? Rococco purple prose? Minimalist realism? Abstract Expressionism underscored with Dadaist wit and Imagist sensibilities?
Genius is misunderstood in our times as it has been in all times and sadly will be in most times to come.
Dreamers are marginalized for the sake of fools and sociopaths that inerited their shameless mother’s verbiage and calculatingly mean father’s sense of entitlement. Often limited to associated patterns (imprints) set up by those that came before them, the populace as a whole struggles with the sheer stupidity of excess that is provided them by modern convenience. If you want a Q.E.D. on that, look out a window.
Picasso was one of the final geniuses of the Modern art world, and his kind no longer exists. Most burned out, shot themselves, or faded away like family postcards. Sad but sweet.
Warhol made it acceptable for the Artist to Not be a genius, and with his “factory” he fulfilled the promise that the Industrial Revolution & (following WW II) the Plastics Revolution made, effectively that nobody is special, but slightly varied wholly interchangeable components of a great and merciless machine that runs society for the sake of profit and prestige. But that’s cool, that can be worthwhile if the material excess is your game, as the New Archons start inculcating a whole new generation of artists with tacky kitsch advertising that owes its roots to everything that fateful Campbell’s Soup Can represents.
You can hardly blame Warhol for the resulting Revolution of Lowered Expectations. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. The same could be said of Hitler or Bush. Shills are corrosive when they are in power. Reactions such as black presidents or stock market crashes occur when a corporate stooge instigates needless conflict in the name of a prophet whose name was been abused repeatedly since the Holy Roman Empire came into being.
With the rise of new technologies and interfaces there are now numerous means of producing the Ultimate Cool. The responsibility is staggering. The collective imagination is such that certain areas in the shallower regions stagnate and compromise the entirety of the deeper, stiller regions.
Those that access the ocean of Art World are usually open minded, and they react according to the parameters indoctrinated into them by their family and their friends and their social expectations, just like a closed minded person would, but often with a better sense of humor. The voice of the closed minded are staggering but in truth very minimal in scope. They cannot rewrite a history based on light particles and keyboards. The future will bring more shame to the closed minded, in a historical sense.
The only cure for this malady I can prescribe may be the revival of an old archetype, that of Artist as Magician, though on the more exoteric levels of the Art World, one can easily see how information media is already pervasive enough that, even if at times somewhat ignorant, the common man cannot claim innocence to searching for that in his media. Harry Potter and various other fantastic characters from books and movies inhabit an adult’s dreamtime as well as those of children.
The cynical old man or the optimistic young one would perhaps come to blows on this issue, given proper inclination and circumstance, but how is it that a middle-aged man who has never so much as entered a museum in his life may, upon observing a post-Warhol piece, let’s say an enormous example of abstract expressionist painting, say something to the effect of “Hell, I could do that.”
This man doesn’t take into account that artist was able to create this or that work only at great personal expense, believing in this or that benefactor, conceding this or that ideal for the sake of a commission or a show. The man that says “Hell, I could do that” hasn’t been shaken by art and thus does not understand art because he has better things, more practical things to think about. This is one of the reasons why Dada died & Surrealism grew to the point that it saturated the worldwide thought-currents, impacting the following century of advertising, design and illustration overall.
People are strange and stupid and mean, as the whole. Hobbes is oft quoted as referring to human life as “nasty, brutish, and short”. People as a whole are not prone to enjoy ideals beyond their grasps, but rather, to become frustrated and even frightened by them. This is proven time and again throughout the Internet, an aggressively growing entity that a whole new generation of people have lived with for their entire lives. In the years where the future seemed bleak, I call on the Artist to shake people awake. Don’t you understand? Don’t you remember? The future is now. Today is quite obviously tomorrow. It should but doesn’t go without saying that Art is forever bonded to humanity. I cannot stress this enough. The scope of its impact on the collective imagination can be found in elemental traces one may identify within all the forms of media humans consume.
Just as the consumption of high calorie sweet treats may rot the teeth, so it would seem that in many cases the consumer mindset, wholly abhorrent to most truly creative efforts due to its being a democratically stymied system, has rotted down to the nerve. Overstimulated, cold is too cold, lukewarm is perfect.
The efforts of a handful of old men have led us on a limited run high-stakes rigged game up until this point, gamblers and salesmen, confidence men with a very deliberate brain-washing schemes, their method of approach unsustainable but seemingly irreplaceable due to the very powerful sedatives provided in our drinking water and by our doctors, but we have to bear in mind that though it is a terrible game, it’s the only game in town.
Sedation has its advantages for profiteers. For instance, any number of unfulfillable delusions or worries concerning one’s station and purpose and debt can be washed away by the warm glow of cable television. You can tone down your dreams until they’re monochrome, lower your expectations to the point of dramatic refusal to participate at all, though even inaction has its consequences.
But I digress, wander into a briar patch, fall into a ditch. No.
In light of the Obama Hope Poster/Shepard Fairey incident (in which we should stress he told NPR he recouped expenses and used the rest to make more prints and donate them) and having read the commentary and criticism from various vitriolic pundits in the internet’s Peanut Gallery, I put forth a point that few Doctors of English will argue with, simply that Shakespeare did not write every line of his work. All right? Can you guys please understand how that worked? He was a Master of Form and composition, true. But he and most of his fellow playrights adapted and outright stole from one another. Overall he was able to use his pilfered portions to tell the essence of Old myths and histories and address the time and place in which he lived. Even in a time when the populace at large was illiterate and filthy (in our own times, voluntarily so), creativity did not stagnate. True, copyists are eternal as art itself, and we are regurgitating Shakespeare in awkward clips and have been for centuries, but we moved well beyond that, didn’t we? Language evolved, like you do.
Creativity is subjective, as are All Things. One does not escape themselves. An artist does not steal as a thief. An artist captures the essence of something, Anything at all, and reflects it at an audience, participating as scientists in an experiment, waiting for a reaction to occur. If one is dishonest in their artwork, it will either show or they will be uncovered as hacks, frauds, or worst of all completely unoriginal fools.
If they’re able to mix equal parts charisma and courage, working the industry to their advantage, manage scheduling with the galleries, all the things you’d expect, then perhaps they’ll get a break from some kind-hearted patron or foundation, one of these few gifted people will stand out from people who have to hone their honesty to be noticed.