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The Artist as Rockstar

October 7, 2009

How come there aren’t any famous artists?

Every art-form seems to be having its time in the spotlight. Just look at pop culture and the copious amounts of reality shows that reflect society’s current interests. Everything is represented but visual arts!

  • At the height of this right now seems to be the performing arts: dance and singing. Shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars are hugely popular. These artists are celebrated, the art-form itself deeply integrated in our society.
  • Then there’s the culinary arts. Think of all the cooking shows and celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Rachel Ray. On reality shows like Hell’s Kitchen, we see potential chefs battling it out for prestige and recognition.
  • Fashion design and modelling is represented by shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway. Designers and models alike are presented as celebrities and their artistic abilities praised.
  • And let’s not forget about interior design. There is a plethora of renovation shows that demonstrate how you can easily redecorate your house. Everyone is encouraged to be their own designer!
  • Biggest of all is the music industry. Musicians are routinely touted as artists, a few even deserve the name. People bring this creative work into their homes on a regular basis, recognizing its impact on their lives. I don’t know how much money goes into music every year, but it’s enough to make these artists major celebrities in their own rights.

And in all of this, where is the visual arts? Where is the painter? The sculptor? The photographer?

Why aren’t we represented anywhere in our culture and what does it mean?

It’s more than artists being left out of the reality TV fad. This trend shows the people’s deep interest in all things creative. It shows that the general public isn’t completely oblivious to creative pursuits. It shows that they crave the kind of enrichment that music and beauty and innovation can bring to their lives.

And it also shows, in spite of all this, their complete disinterest in the visual arts.

Art has become so inaccessible, so irrelevant to people’s lives that no one is interested in it.

While reading my book about Rothko, I learned that he was invited to President Kennedy’s inauguration. It made me wonder, were there any celebrity-artists invited to Obama’s inauguration? Are there even any celebrity-artists at all? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out! The last real celebrity-artist that comes to mind is Andy Warhol, but I truly can’t think of any today. Damien Hirst? I don’t know!

I’m not saying that artists should be celebrities, or that they even want to be, but I find it curious that the opportunity seems to exist for everyone but visual artists. Why do are we so far removed from the rest of society?

Perhaps the arts has done it to itself. The idea of art being sophisticated and intellectual has pushed away most of the population. There is a sense of elitism surrounding art that many in the industry seek to perpetuate, and that elitism is what places art out of reach for the rest of society.

Think about the way art is presented: a large uninviting gallery with pristine walls. There are rules about touching, taking photos, bringing bags, paying admissions and making donations. The room is hushed and you know you’re being watched.

Now think about the literature that goes with the art: it is usually a very academic account of abstract concepts, full of big words and art jargon.

The message? If you’re not intelligent, educated, sophisticated and knowledgeable, you don’t belong here!

No wonder more people would rather buy a print at the local big-box store than frequent a place where they’re not welcome!

What’s the answer? Well, some might argue that there is no answer because there is no problem; art is and should be above the masses, who just can’t understand or appreciate it. Personally, I think the art industry needs to get off its high horse and make itself more accessible to the rest of the world. Art is essential and valuable in many different ways. It can enrich our lives just as much as music does, and if people can appreciate music, then they can appreciate art. There is no reason for the visual arts to be pushed to the sideline!

So I ask you, why can’t artists be rockstars too?


From → Art General, Drawing

  1. Ah another thoughtful post! Let’s see, first of all I agree with your question and often pose it myself. If you want to read about the Obama’s art this is a decent place to begin: The thing is, we have not had a first family with an interest in visual arts in a long time. So at least this is a step in the right direction.

    I have a lot of thoughts on this, but will pose just a few here. First of all, visual art requires people to be still and contemplate what it is to be human. It is powerful and reflective and often I think viewers are terrified of the mirror the canvas holds up to them (see my current post for more about this particular thought ). It is a lot like classical music in that way.

    You mentioned interior design. Well, my education and early professional background is in interior design, and what you are seeing on the television is often decoration rather than true design (yes, there is a tremendous difference). There is a great deal more to that profession than meets the eye which is often true of any true art you see on the tv clips.

    When we lived in England the BBC did a (6 week, I think) series they called “Art School”. One of the art schools in London (I think it was Chelsea College of Art) brought in a number of well known people of various ages. Radio and TV personalities, chefs, journalists, etc. attended this program for the number of weeks designated and were put through their paces with various phases of learning and exploring visual arts. What happened is they not only got this program out of it, but these people learned a great respect for what the visual artist does and goes through and how challenging it is to do this day in and out! They talked about it using their various venues and as you may know since then the English Art Scene has flourished and they keep talking!

    This brings me to my point, it seems to me what needs to happen is artists need to work together. Publishers need to stop relying on stock photos so much, musicians need to consider fine art for their backgrounds and albums, interior designers/decorators (especially on the shows) need to utilize origional works from emerging artists, chefs need to also include visual arts in their programs (referring to paintings on their sets and maybe even having the artist as a guest) and make sure their resturants have fine art associated with them. In other words, we have to stop being singular and we also have to stop relying on the computer to generate so much. We have to remember to promote the HUMAN aspect of Visual Fine Art! We all need to support each other! At least that is my idea!

    Great Topic! I am sorry if I got carried away!

    • Hey Kim! I love reading your thoughts, you always have some great points to add! Thanks for the link about Obama, it’s great to a political figure like him taking an interest in modern art. He sets a good example for everyone else!

      I think you’re right about your mirror idea. Art is traditionally more introspective and geared towards the individual experience. In our high-tech, fast-paced, in-your-face world, maybe it just can’t compete. These reality shows demonstrate our voyeuristic tendencies and perhaps people are more intersted in spying on other’s lives than examining their own!

      Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to imply that interior design was easy. I absolutely agree with you that these shows present a very simplified version of decorating, that makes everyone think they can be their own designer. It just goes to show that people are interested in making their homes inviting through the use of visual aesthetics.

      I love your idea of integrating the arts and working together to bring art back into people’s lives. The question is, how do we do it? Maybe this is a start!

  2. Hello Miranda, I am so excited about this subject I had to come back and reply. First of all I know you realized interior design is more broad than it appears on TV. I also know there are many out there who do not understand what it takes to do many jobs.

    You are so right about the voyeuristic nature of many people. For most people it is easier for them to watch people do things than to do it themselves! It is a concept I do not understand. As you say, most people just want to have other people’s lives to evaluate rather than take a hard look at their own. Sad, don’t you think?

    I believe you are so right about this being a beginning. I talk about this concept every chance I get. This past spring I was invited to a literary magazine launch party in NYC because I had a photograph published in said publication. At that party, this is the one subject I talked about – artists working together for the common good of all art (and design). Not too long ago, I saw a show of Giada DeLaurentis (I know I probably have spelled her name incorrectly) where she and her husband hosted a show of one of their favorite artist’s work (of course she preapared the food). I am sure that artist has gotten a lot from that exposure! We need more of this kind of thing happening!

    Thanks for this conservation, Miranda!

  3. You bring up a great point here! I’ve been working on getting our TV show in the air for over 2 years. It’s called The Paint SHop and it’s about the daily painting, customizing and designing that my husband Drew Brophy does as a professional artist. It’s a brilliant theme, and I’ve come as close as having TBS schedule our pilot only to have it cancelled at the last minute!

    Now we’ve decided to fund the shoot and editing ourselves and approach it from a different angle.

    Just tonight we were laughing at some of the really stupid stuff on TV and the irony of how cool our show is and the struggle to get it on a major network.

    It’s a great question that you ask, and here’s my answer as to why there are no TV shows with Visual Artists as rockstars: Because someone hasn’t paved the way yet.

    It’s coming.

    • Maria, I’m glad you added your two cents to this! I think there’s definitely a niche there that could be filled by a show like yours. I hope it works out for you and that we’ll see your show on air soon; I’d watch it for sure!

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