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Lonely Artists

John W. Pinkerton


After a brief midday nap, I had a thought: real artists must be lonely.

I don't mean folks like me who just paint and do the best they can.  I mean real artists: folks whose visual minds operate on a unique plain---a place most of us cannot go. 

I have friends who are real artists who tolerate me, I suspect mainly because I know a little art history and am not an asshat every moment of the day.

My contention that real artists are lonely is based on two facts: most folks have little art education and most folks can't see as real artists see.  Consequently, their communication with mortals is somewhat restricted.

Even I in my humble state have a little problem not being able to talk to folks about art.   I've quit bringing up “well known” artists in conversations because I don't care for the listener's blank stares.

While viewing art at an auction in which I and a real artist friend were participating as contributors, he commented admiringly about what was in my eyes was a rather simple, under-painted sailboat.  I don't remember the content of his comment: I do remember that he, apparently, was seeing it quite differently than I.

A younger friend of mine---of course, all my friends are younger than I---were visiting the Houston Museum of Art at his request to view a show of Spanish art.  I knew my friend was a wonderful artist, but some of his remarks about the art were way above my pay grade.  My only contribution to the day was my explanation when he asked why the Spanish art seemed so dour.  I asked him if he knew the history of Spain which included one fellow laughing in the Sixteenth Century, and I believe he was impaled for this unusual act.

Another young fellow---this one really young---I, from the first time I saw examples of his work, realized he was a real artist.  Of course I sought him out as a friend.  In the course of a conversation, he remarked that he wasn't trying to become an artist---that's who he was---he had no choice about the matter.

I have several friends who are artists.  Each has his or her own style or styles.  Some have reached where they are today via hard work and others by hard work and an innate  understanding of the visual.

I have a great disdain for folks who just like to be associated with art…not because of an emotional appreciation of good art but because they like to be seen as refined folks.   I guess I shouldn't shoot any of these folks: they might be useful as patrons.  On second thought, I'd rather shoot them.  Oh, and by the way, even some artists are pretenders.  These folks are worse than those who are simply uninformed about art.

One of my real artist friends recently commented that he was looking for his tribe.  (Aren't we all?)   For these fellows, finding their art tribe, folks with whom they can meaningfully communicate, is like finding a previously undiscovered South American tribe of indigenous folks.  It ain't easy.

Family members are seldom much help.  Time after time after making a new artist friend, I realize that their spouses are totally disconnected from their art.  That's okay as long as they are not obstructionists. 

Me, I'm fortunate: I'm not a real artist and my wife is supportive of what I do.

Most real artists manage in a world in which they are aliens.  They adjust, but it is to a great degree a lonely world.