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Art Is Work. It Isn’t Theory.

Great masterpieces don't flow out without devotion and sacrifice.

by
Jon Bishop

Bio

November 28, 2013 - 1:00 pm

sistine.chapel.vatican.12

It is.

We forget that artistic talent — whether in writing or in painting or in music — comes from hard, grueling work. We tend to imagine that people like Michelangelo merely materialized and, once “inspired,” began producing great pieces. Or we assume that there exists some sort of theory that, if studied, will allow us to all become geniuses.

Robert Pinsky, the poet laureate from the United States, reminds us that this isn’t true.

Back in 2010, he wrote a blog post for Slate in which he discussed Michelangelo’s talent for poetry. The artist penned a depressing poem, one that details the struggle of undertaking such a large project as the Sistine Chapel. We can see how agonizing it was. I’ll post the first stanza below:

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

This does not sound like someone who effortlessly and breathlessly put together one of the finest pieces in Western civilization. In fact, he sounds like the rest of us: annoyed, tired, sick of the task at hand. We imagine that he probably screwed up and had to start over.

But he kept pushing. He overcame his misgivings, his stresses. And he left us with something eternal.

The Internet has given us a hyper-democratic age. Suddenly, everyone has declared himself an artist or a writer or a musician. But the key to greatness is not a blog or the empty praise of family and friends. It is not the five-subject notebook purchased at the local convenience store.

No, it is work and effort and failure and perseverance. And a lot of it.

Just think of Michelangelo.

Jon Bishop likes to write.

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Top Rated Comments   
Thank you. Yes, it is true Duchamp has succeeded to some degree in his quest to "do away with art as others have done away with religion", but just as God refuses to die so does the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (15)
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37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Somebody please explain to me why Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucien Freud" recently sold for $142 million or why Jeff Koons' orange plastic dog sold for $58 million.

My uncle, who was a medic during the Korean war, often exclaimed "It used to be that the cream rose to the top. Now it's just sh!t floats"

How right he was!
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you. Yes, it is true Duchamp has succeeded to some degree in his quest to "do away with art as others have done away with religion", but just as God refuses to die so does the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're so right about the hard work involved in making art. Michelangelo's poem evokes a lot of sympathy in me even though easel painting is a breeze compared to what he had to go through.

I blame the "art is anything I say it is" attitude on the 1960s, during which time the concept of a lifestyle replaced actual life. The idea of lifestyle allowed one's persona to be just a matter of choice dependent upon which superficialities one wanted to adopt. Andy Warhol's shallow commercial product not only debased art by stripping it of depth and seriousness, but turned the very act of creation into just another pose that anyone could assume. He was the epitome of the damage the '60s did to the fine arts, but the destruction affected the entire culture.

I think, regarding the democratization brought about through the online world, that, yes, many more people can designate themselves "artists" but how much meaning does that really have? People put millions of paintings online but they all look like generic art because all nuance is lost. The only way to look at art is to actually see it.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I blame the "art is anything I say it is" attitude on the 1960s, during which time the concept of a lifestyle replaced actual life. The idea of lifestyle allowed one's persona to be just a matter of choice dependent upon which superficialities one wanted to adopt. Andy Warhol's shallow commercial product not only debased art by stripping it of depth and seriousness, but turned the very act of creation into just another pose that anyone could assume. He was the epitome of the damage the '60s did to the fine arts, but the destruction affected the entire culture."


Yes, and there was also that film that was made fairly recently that dealt with I think Broadway? Michael Chetwynd of Poliwood referenced the film a few times in some episodes, specifically the line "Oh, I'm an Arteist (pronunciation of "Artist" as he put it)! I live in my own moral universe!" At this point, I'm not sure whether art can be moral, especially seeing how most art right now is of the amoral kind.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are still people who believe in the morality of art. They work hard and there's good work out there. It just doesn't get the attention it deserves.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would add Jackson Pollack to the list. Throwing globs of paint randomly at a canvas is not "art," no matter what one may think.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Painting and drawing are acts that leave behind a trace of the artist; the better the artist the more honest the trace is. And by "honest" I don't mean sloppy or casual, I mean it in the sense that the artist is connected to something outside the paper or canvas or the studio. Some people, like Warhol and many contemporary artists, made eliminating the "trace" the purpose of their art. Art that exists just to eliminate its own humanity isn't art at all.

Both good abstraction and good realism reveal the ghost of the artist's hand, it's just easier to see in realism. And both styles, no matter how brilliant, lose some of that aura when photographed, and it's especially hard to capture in digital photography. I don't know if you've ever seen a Pollock in a gallery or museum but, if you have, the trace of his personality and intent is very clear. Honest abstract painting is just as difficult to achieve as honest realism.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pollock didn't throw paint randomly. He put it where he wanted it to go. And while you may not see the value of his work the CIA certainly did: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't care for Jackson Pollock myself, but at least he actually made something with his hands that required some skill, no matter how hard it may be to see. I never cared for Picasso either. But I truly draw the line at "conceptual art" Wrapping a house in colored plastic, stacking three vacuum cleaners on top of each other, dunking a crucifix in a jar of urine, videotaping your abortion, those are not art. The inanity or offensiveness of, notwithstanding.

I can't tell you what art is, but I'll tell you what it's not. Art is not something a 3-year-old could do just as well (now I'm not so sure about Pollock). Unless you're a doting parent and it's on your refrigerator. Art is not a "painting" by an elephant at the zoo. And art is not art just because it's offensive to societal norms. Art can be rebellious, but rebellion is not necessarily art.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
"He put it where he wanted it to go."

Hmm. Very roughly speaking. Have you ever tried it, Dave?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
"He put it where he wanted it to go."

I heard the same claim made for Ron Jeremy. Does that make him an artist too? Sorry, couldn't resist.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was about 18 Pollock had already been labeled a genius. His paintings sold for huge amounts of money, though he was called in some circles Jack The Dripper. I went to an amusement park and there was a machine that allowed one - for a quarter - to toss in some paint and create your very own abstract painting, a mini-Pollack. I did so and took the work of art back to my studio apartment. I found it lovely to look at while, at the same time, it opened my mind to the cynicism that revolved around abstract painting ("my child' - or any primate - "could do that") as well as the beauty of pure paint. Both revelations had a lasting influence on me as an artist and as a cultural observer.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
My point is this: It's easier to negate authenticity than to admit that it exists.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've heard rumors about the CIA connection for ages. It makes sense and it certainly worked. The artists weren't corrupted because they didn't know about it, but it did move the center of the art world from Paris to New York, where it remains to this day. If only the current crop of artists had half the strength and talent as the abstract expressionists.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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