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Are Artists Elite?

“I have been privileged to know gifted artists who were not acknowledged as such simply because they lived like regular people and didn’t carry on like Lord Byron. (‘Of course, he can draw, but he is not really an artist.’) All of us have received, as an important part of our cultural inheritance, this pernicious myth of the artist. He has soul, and perhaps even rich brown eyes. He is widely misunderstood. He lives in a garret. He feels deeply. He fights the establishment orthodoxies. This last part of the myth has become increasingly difficult for him since fighting establishment orthodoxies has become the establishment orthodoxy.

“But regardless of the details, anyone who wants to be admitted into the land of the artist has to show some version of these papers to the border guards. And while we are on the point, few things are more painful to watch than to see evangelical Christians (who have heard the phrase ‘redeeming the arts’ one time too many) trying to bluff their way past the guards. If artists get to ‘produce art’ then just call yourself a producer, or painter, or writer, or whatever, and hope they buy it. They almost never do, but the neediness of some Christians demands the risk be taken anyway. Repeatedly.”

Douglas Wilson, from an essay titled Humbling the Arts

7 Comments

  1. Reminds me of one of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. The newspapers report that Father Brown helped a married woman escape from her banker husband to run off with her poet lover. In fact it’s just the opposite–he helped her escape her poet lover, and reunite with her husband. The confusion arose from the fact that the banker dressed like a poet, and the poet like a banker.

  2. I wanted to be a poet when I was younger. I am glad now that I did not become one. I fear that if I had, I may have ended up like Ezra Pound, wearing capes and espousing fascism in Italian propaganda radio programs.

  3. Luaphcim– That would have made you a Luaphacist. OK, that was and is bad. Yeah, don’t become a poet!

    Rob– No doubt. Rebellion is on its head these days, it’s so popular.

  4. Wow. The paragraph that dares to suggest graphic design is high art — makes me feel a lot better about my career. I am not just a graphic designer. I AM AN ARTIST! (With two kids that need to be fed regularly and a wife to keep in furs.)

    (No, actually, she wears a good, Republican cloth coat.)

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