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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Artist Stereotypes

copyright, Jim Lane
Virtually every major profession on the face of the earth has them--stereotypes. Cops eat donuts. Lawyers are crooked. Teachers have pets. Politicians lie. Prostitutes are sexy. Chef's are fat. Artists are weird. Musicians are weirder. Actors are the weirdest. The most common stereotypes are almost all negative though possibly, if one chose to pursue a little more effort, a positive could be matched against each negative. However, in some cases the effort might not be worth the effort. Some professions have quite a number of stereotypes--like farmers, truck drivers, and athletes. And, as much as we might abhor them, even the most abhorrent stereotypes have evolved based upon an element of truth. One might tend to doubt the talents of a skinny chef, for instance.
With regard to artists, my guess is they bear the burden of no more than an average number of stereotypes. There is a direct relationship between the number of stereotypes foisted upon a profession and the prevalence of that profession in society. That's why waitresses (excuse me, servers) have so many, while elevator operators have virtually none. In the overall scheme of things, artists, while fairly prevalent, are not all that important as compared to plumbers or airline pilots. And, in most cases, stereotypes of artists are quite innocuous, even, to a degree, flattering. All artists wear little black berets and white smocks (I own neither). All artists are slender from years of starvation. (I wish.) All artists have wildly unkempt hair and paint under their fingernails. (Where do I sign up for the unkempt hair?) And most of all, artists are temperamental (no comment).

copyright, Jim Lane
A stereotype suggests commonality. Yet, if you study the lives of artist down through the ages as I have, you'll find that artists have very little in common. In fact, they are far more different than they are alike. Let's start with what might be considered a basic, fundamental premise--all artists are creative. HAH! It might be easier to postulate that all artists are imitative. I suppose, if you were to define creative in its broadest sense (artists make things) there abides some element of truth. But if you seek to imply that all artists are highly original in their thoughts and output, I'll stick to my original reaction. All too often stereotypes are based upon a very limited number of (but very famous) examples. Van Gogh was insane, so therefore, all artists are at least a tad bit crazy. Picasso was a larger than life, workaholic, bull of a man, so therefore, all artists have the drive and sensitivities of a bulldozer. Edouard Manet was an effete, temperamental, impudent snob, so therefore all artists are wound tighter than an eight-day clock. There are many more, and very often, as with Picasso and Manet, at odds with one another.
copyright, Jim Lane
Quite frankly, there should be no artist stereotypes simply because, almost by definition, artists are (or should be) unique individuals, even if they do sometimes share a few similar characteristics (like a profound ineptitude in selling their own work). Visual stereotypes are, perhaps, the least valid where artists are concerned. Some, such as John Singer Sargent, worked in three-piece suits while Andy Warhol was known to paint in the nude. Most artists probably give little thought as to their attire (which may imply a stereotype, but in fact, indicates the absence of one). I propose that for every philandering drunk (Jackson Pollock) there is a devoted Claude Monet. I suppose if there is a single, overriding artist stereotype, it's the fact they're prone to talk too much. ('Nuff said.)


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