Art is a Gamble

Easel at the window of blue building.

Easel at the window on 24th Street, Mission District, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Estela.

Art is a gamble. Maybe you have talent, maybe even genius, but maybe no one sees it. I mean, look at Emily Dickinson. “Ya got sup’m,” Higginson said, “but’cha ain’t ret yet.” Well, words to that effect.

Or, you might be delusional. Ever watch those talent shows on tv? (I watch SYTYCD and RuPaul’s Drag Race.) When folks audition, some of them believe they have talent, when they clearly don’t have a lick. Or it isn’t up to par. When the judges tell them no dice, they’re bewildered, crushed. Some walk off cursing, claim the judges don’t know what ef they’re talking about.

Then there’s market forces. In Inferno, by Eileen Myles, regarding poetry readings, she writes, “There are many kinds of fakery, and some are successful.”

I re-watched Cutie and the Boxer. (It’s still on Netflix.) Pollack splashed paint on a canvas. Ushio Shinohara paints by punching a canvas with boxing gloves. In the documentary, Ushio is 80, and finacially just getting by, with his wife, also an artist. I think it’s a moving story, not only about Ushio, but his wife, Noriko. These are artists in the purest sense of the word. They live for art, and nothing else. It’s an idealistic way to live. Common sense should tell you that it’s risky, if not foolish. Especially, I think, if you’re avant-garde.

The market forces went against Ushio. And Noriko, as woman–wife and mother–had an added disadvantage, having to take care of her family. I don’t know what follows after this film, but I hope it helped gain them some financial relief, and more recognition for their work. (Their son is also an artist. There’s a lot to say about this family of artists, and their dysfunctions. But that’s a different subject.)

Toward the end of the film, Ushio says:

“Art is a demon. A demon that drags you along. It’s not something you stop, even if you should. Maybe you go insane… You throw yourself away to be an artist.”

Once you are a celebrity, anything goes. So, it seems to me. As much as I’m a fan of Eileen Myles, if I wrote like she does, I’d be told I couldn’t write. I think she’s a little messy. And her grammar is sometimes off. But that’s her style, I guess.

R. Crumb, the comic illustrator/artist, says of Warhol:

“He had a clever little schtick, but again, highly overrated, as far as I’m concerned…One of his lame-ass silk screen prints goes for more money than some original renaissance art.”

I feel the same way about Basquiat. One of his paintings sold for over 8 mil, a couple or so years ago. He was in the right place at the right time. I’ve heard it questioned: Was he exploited, or did he exploit? IMO, it was both. From everything I’ve read, saw in the documentary, and  the biopic, he never said he wanted to be a great artist; he said he wanted to be famous. He succeeded at that. Wasn’t even 28 when he bit.

Market forces. And opinion. And, of course, luck.

Van Gogh didn’t sell more than a painting or two in his lifetime. He used to give his work away. Which infuriated his brother, who supported him, gave him money for his art supplies. Van Gogh painted because it’s all he really could do. He failed at everything else. He didn’t fit into the “real world.” He was a misfit. As was Dickinson.

I agree with Ushio Shinohara: art is a demon. You can’t let it go. Even when you know you should. Just get a job, man. But maybe you don’t fit in the “real world.” For whatever reason. So, art is also a saving grace. As it was for Dickinson. As it was for Van Gogh. Sometimes it’s all you got. Personally, I’m not sure what I think of Ushio’s art. That’s a whole other matter.

“Being an artist,” Hubert Selby said, “doesn’t take much, just everything you got.”

Art is a gamble. But if you feel it, you gotta do it. Do it. Do it. It’s a beautiful life, even when it’s rough.

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About Poet Dressed In Black

Poet. Artist. Grammy of one, a granddaughter. Mom of three, son and two daughters, all grown. Individualist. Care-taker of Isabel, an agoraphobic, fear-aggressive, very nervous, delicate flower, Chihuahua mix.
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