Ars longa, vita brevis


Every biographical movie about an artist depicts its subject as some sort of dysfunctional weirdo. Picasso – a woman hater. Van Gogh – a psychotic suicidal. Basquiat – a drug addicted suicide. Pollock – a drunken suicidal. Warhol – a weirdo and con man in a wig. Michelangelo – a disagreeable obsessive. Kahlo – a victim of love and disability. Toulouse-Lautrec – a horny dwarf, Mozart – a child. Beethoven – a deaf crank. Their genius is a curse, fed only by their tortured souls.
In America, we love athletes. We love pop stars. But we love to hate artists.
When we are about ten we are taught that being an artist is impractical, childish, and self indulgent, that ‘talent’ is a god-given gift you either have or you shouldn’t bother. Artists are arrogant, disconnected, elitist, millionaires or paupers. This myth is why parents accept all the cuts in art and music education yet will do anything to promote athletics in school. No one would want their kid to want to grow up to be an artist.
It wasn’t always this way. Doing watercolors used to be a standard part of a decent education, So did reading and writing poetry. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, they were all government employees.
But in 21st century America, that critic in your head has the support and encouragement of the whole gang; your parents, your teachers, your neighbors, bosses, and role models (even so –called creative people in the media promote the illusion that it’s either a fool’s game or the lottery).
Small wonder it’s so hard to drown out. It says, “Don’t sing unless you’re going to become a pop star. Don’t paint unless you know you’ll be a genius who is recognized in your own lifetime. And if you have to practice at something, work on your pitch, your swing, your kick, skills that’ll pave the way for your future.”
You are fighting enough obstacles as it is. Don’t let your own brain join the conspiracy. Tell it to shut the hell up and let you get back to work.
Because all those voices, so right about how to build profit, are flat wrong about how to build a decent life. Without art, your soul suffers; you lack a chance to express who you are, to hone your own point of view, to make your life your own. You are less than human, no matter how many Super Bowl rings you’re wearing.
When you do make something and share it with the world, your voice will be proven wrong again. People won’t say, “Well, that drawing is pathetic. That poem is lame. That note was slightly flat. That diary reveals what a moron the writer was.” If they stop to judge it all, they’ll almost certainly say, “I wish I did that.” Which will give you the chance to say “Well, why don’t you?”