The above clip is from Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat about the artist’s chaotic and troubled life and stardom. I remember seeing this film in high school, and it absolutely made me vibrate. So much in it that had me dreaming of life as Artist with a capital A.
The thing about Basquiat (the film) though is that I really don’t remember much about what happened in it. I mean, I remember the feelings I had and vague snippets of scenes, but I haven’t watched the film very many times and couldn’t tell you much about what happens.
I do however remember this scene of Rene Ricard is talking about the role of an art journalist being to never let another Van Gogh go unnoticed in his time. To never let a great artist live in the shadows of neglect and poverty. Ricard though reflects that it is the artist’s job to get the work out where he can see it.
In a lot of ways, this image of an artist presented in this film was the first really compelling vision I had of the life of an artist. All of this was born in the dreamy high school haze of wanting to be a ‘genius artist’ or some other some something. The realities of it were all left to the side as I dreamed of this vision of the artist as untouchable savant.
I could say that I’ve matured beyond this. My vision of what I want as an artist (human) has changed considerably and for the better. If there is a happy medium between the drugs and poverty of Basquiat, and the boring rural life of Renoir, I would aim between them fairly squarely.
I’ve grown to rather dislike the myth of Van Gogh, or that of Basquiat for that matter. They become a kind of lazy shorthand for a particular view of an artist, or the artist. These images of the artist as exotic crazy de-humanize the person they are. A romantic story to help ignore thinking about the art itself.
There are people who don’t necessarily like Van Gogh’s paintings, but they are certain that they should.They focus in on his life and feel good they remember that ear of his, but can they actually recall a painting? That happens far less often.
If you happen to truly like painting, and you know, find it a valuable component of existence, this is kind of troubling. It seems to me the Van Gogh myth is more about celebrity than painting. Ricard doesn’t want to find a painting, he wants to find another person that could be Van Gogh.
I’m all for interesting personalities and layers upon layers of weirdness in individuals. But, celebrity is another kind of abbreviated and boring myth about how people are and how they interact. It becomes shorthand for the complexities of life and allows us to ignore our own shit and feel better about ourselves. We can always say, we are not them. There is the tension of fascination, desire, and revulsion all in one. Witness the Kardashians.
These myths makes me chuckle a bit. Because, of course, I am somewhat knee-deep in the quest to make painting quite a bit more than a bit part in my life. And I realize there are so many myths that can cloud one’s way forward in being a creative. So many images and ideas of what one should be doing, that you forget to pay attention to what you are doing and can do.
Yet, still we will search continuously for Van Gogh’s and not for Van Gogh paintings