Archive for the Artist quote Category

“…Tell your wife you love her. This is what it’s all about. Otherwise, you’ll be painting and looking at pictures like this. Your days are numbered, clowns. This is the end of the line. The end of beauty. The end of hope. What is art anyway? Decorations for museums.”

–Chuck Connelly, in the extra features on the DVD for The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not for Sale, A Film by Jeff Stimmel

I realized about halfway through Jeff Stimmel’s 2008 documentary about Chuck Connelly that I had met this person before, several times. I’d heard his rants before, I’d seen his behavior, I’d witnessed in person how he lived. Through my years as a writer on art, I interviewed and wrote about a number of aging artists — perhaps 6 or 7 in sum — who were very similar to the way Connelly portrays himself in the film. They were so much alike, in fact, that it seems there must be a personality type: The Delusional Shut-in Artist, perhaps, or maybe the Quixotic Quack Painter.

Here are some of the character features of these men (all the ones I’ve met are men):

They are painters, most often.
They have a heroic vision of themselves (as a Great Artist, a warrior fighting against the cultural tides, a man on a holy quest for beauty, truth, etc).
They are so focused on their art — their quest — that not much else matters to them.
As a rule, they don’t care much about their appearance, and they often let themselves go.
They live in a kind of contained squalor, most often surrounded by the messy trappings of their art practice and the accumulated junk piles of the congenital shut-in.
They tend to believe that they’ve been cheated, somehow, out of the rewards (fame, wealth, attention) they feel is rightfully theirs.
They are misogynistic, abusive to their loved ones, and generally fail at interpersonal relationships.
Evenso, they can be very charismatic, attracting a succession of short-term acolytes, supporters, and co-dependents who eventually end up fleeing in disgust from being used.
They tend toward substance abuse.
They are verbally brilliant, though they think and speak in non-linear, associative ways.
They exhibit flashes of brilliance and great command of their own self-directed learning, but they tend to be, at best, emotionally adolescent.

An alert Friend of Failure sent the text to J.K. Rowling’s recent Harvard commencement address, wherein she credits failure for her eventual success.

…Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

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He was a giant when I was in school in the 1980s and 1990s. His aesthetic in many ways ruled those decades, and I long marveled as a young art student at his way of making tense magic out of ordinary and ugly objects.

I had no idea I was so close to him this past spring when I visited Captiva Island in Florida (where he is said to have lived his last years). A friend recently pointed that fact out to me, and said he’d long been friends with the artist and had visited his estate down there. I wish I’d known Mr. Rauschenberg was a friend of a friend–I would have asked for an introduction. I would have loved to ask the artist what he thought of the state of the art world today.

R.I.P, Mr. Rauschenberg.

“You have to have the time to feel sorry for yourself in order to be a good abstract expressionist.”

“It is impossible to have progress without conscience.”

–Milton Ernst (Robert) Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008)

And, for good measure, here’s a (bad) poem I once wrote about an important event in the career of Robert Rauschenberg (I hope you will forgive me):

The 1964 Venice Biennale

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
about its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie,
celebrated the twentieth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

“There is nothing fiercer than a failed artist. The energy remains, but, having no outlet, it implodes in a great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul.”
–Erica Jong

“Artists know failure. It is not tragic that they know failure; it is only tragic if they know failure and little else…”
Eric Maisel

“Art is always to a large extent about need, despair and hopelessness.”
–Gerhard Richter

“Every painting is a war. You have to struggle every day, and to struggle every day with your inadequacies is a damn nuisance.”
Neil Welliver

“[Galleries and art firms] are in the clutches of fellows who intercept all the money,.. [and only] one-tenth of all the business that is transacted… is really done out of belief in art.”

–Vincent Van Gogh, after his failure as an art dealer, in a letter to his sister Wilhelmina Van Gogh