Monday, October 25, 2010

WHEN AN ARTIST FALLS IN A FOREST AND NO ONE IS AROUND TO HEAR IT...



In 1923, C.B. Dodson of Richmond Virginia entered this painting in a competition for young illustrators:



Alas, he came in second and nobody ever heard of him again. Of course, nobody ever heard of the first place winner either:



C.B. and Florence took their places in that long, long line of anonymous artists who yearned for a whiff of artistic immortality.



It is easy to spot such artists. They're the ones who remain hunched over a drawing board or computer, continuing to work on a picture even after someone was willing to buy it.

For some, this dedication paid off.  Norman Rockwell traded away his personal life for his art, often working twelve hours a day, six days a week on his paintings. Near the end of his life he observed, "The story of my life is, really, the story of my pictures." Rockwell may not have spent much time playing with his kids or lingering in bed with his wife on cold New England mornings, but he could feel warmed by the knowledge that future generations would remember his name and respect his achievement.

Rockwell's fame is the exception, not the rule.  For most artists,  every artistic decision that seemed so important at the time-- every crucial brush stroke or color choice-- will be erased forever.  When artists arrive at that final destination, they understand that all those extra hours they robbed from life to invest in their craft, hoping for some future return on their investment, is equity that will never be repaid.

It's not as if the gods hid the price of glory. Long ago, the gods made it clear to Achilles that if he wanted to be remembered, he would have to sacrifice his life.

From The Iliad by the Provensens

If he fought in the Trojan war, he would be killed but his name would live forever in glory. On the other hand, if he turned and sailed for home he could enjoy a long, happy life surfing internet porn and playing Wii in his bathrobe but no one would remember his name.

You can bet that Achilles loved playing Wii just as much as you or I, so he raged against the unfairness of this choice. The pain in his famous soliloquy remains fresh today, thousands of years later:

The same honor waits for the coward and the brave. They both go down to Death, the fighter who shirks and the one who works to exhaustion.... Two fates bear me on to the day of my death. If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy my journey back home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the home I love, my pride, my glory dies, true, but the life that's left me will be long....
When his hour of decision arrived, Achilles chose to sacrifice his life on the hardscrabble soil of Troy. (If he hadn't, we wouldn't still be talking about him now).

In some ways, Achilles got a better deal than poor C.B. Dodson. At least Achilles received a guarantee from the gods that his sacrifice would be repaid with eternal glory. Artists get no such guarantee. They must gamble their lives away like a poker chip at the Casino d'Art. There are plenty of talented, hard working artists who die anonymous deaths, and plenty of untalented hacks who hit the jackpot and become legends. Who would play a slot machine with such terrible odds?

Unlike the fortunate Achilles, our choice is beset by our human limitations. We are surrounded by our mortality on one side, which requires us to make haste with our commitments, and total uncertainty on the other side about whether those commitments (and their accompanying sacrifices) will have any meaning whatsoever.

As a result, we are forced to work harder to find solace than Achilles did. The glory of our work is different from the glory earned by Achilles. Ours is sadder, more poignant and more fragile. But I am convinced it is no less glorious.



68 Comments:

Blogger James King said...

Brilliant. Sublime. Thanks (again) for posting. (Where did I put that whiskey bottle?)

10/25/2010 6:11 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

- Hardworking. Check.
- High distinction. Check.
- Award wins. Check.
- Mounting student debt. Check.
- Ability to earn a living. Slim.
- Crippling doubts. Check.

Pass the shotgun.

10/25/2010 8:07 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

The artist's dilemma poignantly described. That was one of your finest, Mr. Apatoff.

10/25/2010 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So we have to decide to risk it all or live a life of contentment and mediocrity?







I'm mediocre but I have to try.

10/25/2010 9:09 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

thankfully it really isnt as simple as that anonymous.

10/25/2010 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sometimes it is.

10/25/2010 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us hope the hardworking artist doomed to obscurity at least has the pleasure of enjoying his labor. Other hardworking people, likewise doomed to obscurity, don't even get that much.

10/25/2010 10:05 PM  
Blogger JBF said...

And, alas, you've misspelled poor Mr. Dobson's name at the end of your post...

10/25/2010 10:31 PM  
Blogger JBF said...

As did I! "Dodson". The final indignity.

10/25/2010 10:33 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

This is real. You have a poetic way of looking at the things that really affect me as an artist, but what's the answer?

10/25/2010 10:42 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

James King and etc. etc.-- thank you for the kind words. I appreciate them.

Amanda-- don't go getting an itchy trigger finger just yet. That Underpass Motel looks pretty interesting.

10/25/2010 11:04 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous wrote: "So we have to decide to risk it all or live a life of contentment and mediocrity?"

Anonymous, If it were just a choice between risk and mediocrity, I think the answer would be pretty clear (even if it wasn't always easy to follow). But one of the things that makes our dilemma so agonizing is that truth resides on both sides of the equation. On one side, we have Yeats who admonishes us:

"Those cheers that can be bought or sold...
For things like these what decent man
Would keep his lover waiting?"

Yeats' characterization has nothing to do with contentment or mediocrity, he's advocating good judgment in the face of worldly distractions, right? But then on the other side of the equation, Sir Walter Scott scolds us:

"The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living shall forfeit fair renown,
And doubly dying, shall go down...
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung."

Well, Scott sounds right too, doesn't it? I mean, none of us wants to be concentered all in ourselves and unsung, do we?

There have been millions variations of these themes over tens of thousands of years. They have prodded people into doing all kinds of things (including drinking whiskey and picking up a shotgun, as noted above.) It is not just a question of accepting mediocrity.

10/25/2010 11:29 PM  
Blogger ARMAND CABRERA said...

Hmm,

I would have went for Percy Shelley's Ozymandias which condemns even the greatest of us to such a fate given enough time, but then I've always been a glass half empty kind of guy.

10/25/2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous (1 or 2?) wrote: "Let us hope the hardworking artist doomed to obscurity at least has the pleasure of enjoying his labor."

I think surely that must be part of any solution: finding meaning in each hour as it is expended, rather than looking at the hour as a long term investment to be vindicated by some contingent pay off down the road. But there are a lot of hours along our path that are difficult to treat that way.

JBF said: "And, alas, you've misspelled poor Mr. Dobson's name at the end of your post..."

JBF, you are absolutely right. My first inclination was to write, "Awww, who the hell cares about a nobody like him?" But in honor of the subject of this post, out of respect for Dodson (and with your kind indulgence) I will go back and correct the spelling in my post. Thank you for pointing out my error, and especially for recognizing the irony in it.

10/25/2010 11:50 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Armand Carbrera wrote: "I would have went for Percy Shelley's Ozymandias which condemns even the greatest of us to such a fate given enough time,"

Exactly! one of the problems with the blogging format is that it forecloses any protracted discussion of such issues (although that is one of its advantages as well).

There is a modern physics equivalent to Ozymandias, that the the universe will continue to expand until all life becomes untenable, at which time all of the accomplishments for which we suffer (along with the accomplishments of Rembrandt and Michelangelo) will have no meaning in that vast, cold, eternal void. I thought about slipping that issue into the discussion, but thought I might have a hard time answering it fully in the space allotted.

10/26/2010 12:02 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

All donkeys take note: The large carrot dangling from the stick is made from aluminum, hollow, empty, and stamped "Koons", and if you think otherwise~ take a long hard look into the mirror.

10/26/2010 1:02 AM  
Blogger K said...

"When I have made a line that sings itself, so that I love the sound of it -- I pay myself a hundred times."

Cyrano

QED

10/26/2010 2:05 AM  
Anonymous Adam Paquette said...

Seems to me a rather strange choice to force upon yourself as an artist. I work on my art seven days a week, rather obsessively... but it has also taken me half way around the world and has been a catalyst for interation with amazing people. Furthermore, I have had people thank me for compelling them to similar paths, which is exponentially rewarding.
Not that I don't understand the crux of the argument... but perhaps
our own Achilles' don't have to face such a hard and fast choice. My heel, for one, is covered by a hardy hiking boot, my shield is a pochade box, and my art is a steadfast companion by my side. Here's to long life AND the best work we can muster.

10/26/2010 5:24 AM  
Blogger scruffy said...

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

It seems to me that whether we labor for worldly recognition or ignore our gifts for self indulgence we have missed true glory.

Excellent, excellent post. As always, thank you for your musings.

10/26/2010 6:57 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन, Judas Priest is obviously correct that "you don't have to be old to be wise" but their moronic song is a strong advertisement for the view that it sure helps.

K-- I wonder whether Cyrano would have accomplished all those wonderful things (poet, swordsman, philosopher, playwright, soldier) if he weren't compensating for his huge nose and if, once gifted with wisdom, he would have relinquished it all for a normal nose and a satisfying love life. Norman Rockwell freely admitted that his superhuman dedication to art stemmed from a desperate need to make something special and noteworthy out of a puny little weakling: "I was a skinny kid.... The other kids called me Mooney because I wore glasses....How I hated that name Mooney....A long skinny nothing... that's what I was.... All I had was the ability to draw.... But because it was all I had I began to make it my whole life. I drew all the time. Gradually, my narrow shoulders, long neck and pigeon toes became less important to me. My feelings no longer paralyzed me. I drew and drew and drew."

10/26/2010 7:24 AM  
Blogger Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I am reminded of Camus:

"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Beautifully written, as always:)

10/26/2010 7:36 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Adam Paquette wrote, "Seems to me a rather strange choice to force upon yourself as an artist."

Adam, I'm not sure it's something you go looking for. I think it's more something that comes upon you, often late at night in the studio when you are testing for the foundation to it all (much the same way that you test with your toes to see if you can feel the bottom when you're in the water). It's not a constant question, it comes and goes (I notice from your web site that you seem to be in one of those periods of artistic solidity where all seems to expand onward and outward. That's a mighty fine feeling and not incompatible, in my view, with the issues discussed here). I would also note that the dilemma does not always present itself as starkly as I have presented it here. There are all kinds of diluted versions of this choice, in all shapes and sizes.

But whether you obsess about it or not, it seems to me that once you are aware of the existence of this issue, you have to count on coming to grips with it sometime before you're through. (And I think you're better off wrestling wth it while you still have options available, rather than being ambushed by it on your death bed.)

10/26/2010 7:45 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

"the accomplishments for which we suffer (along with the accomplishments of Rembrandt and Michelangelo) will have no meaning in that vast, cold, eternal void."

Rembrandt and Michelangelo would disagree with you, of course (assuming they believed what they painted). So would a lot of more recent artists, from Pyle to Struzan. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." The notion that human praise is our only lasting reward is pretty recent, and uncommon among artists throughout history. To understand the mind & motives of the artist, it's important to take that into account.

10/26/2010 8:52 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

But for those of us who are dedicated at least will give it a hearty go, and see what happens...

10/26/2010 12:13 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This was a beautiful post David, if thoroughly depressing in its point of view. This tone of the infinite meaninglessness of expression can apply to any corner of life, not just art. All we do is express in one way or another... Express into the void. And all we have are these brief moments out of the cave of infinite silence, in the sunshine of our hardscrabble existence. Yet we can reach beyond our envelopes in many ways, and providing good beyond our envelope (our envelope of lifetime, of person, of habit) takes us outside ourselves and pushes us into a more ideal state of mind.

Art is like a siren call for so many, because so many minds cry out for transcendence, for the pure realm of conception. It truly is a religion unto its own.

But I think I would dispute that the goal of the religion, with respect to the art, is for the artist to live on in the glory of memory. It is for his thoughts and his moments to live on, preserved in an aesthetic package, as a real thing. This is a spiritual quest, (spirit being the archaic word for idea), to manifest itself as matter. Frederico Zuccaro argued long ago that "disegno" is the process by which the soul realizes itself.

10/26/2010 1:04 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A.,
Seeing through the illusion of self. Awakening to ones true nature as a manifestation of the godhead. Advocating living in a way that joyously celebrates the universe. You're right, moronic and imbecilic. How can we follow? Why would we?

10/26/2010 2:36 PM  
Blogger James King said...

The Cyrano quote from K resonates with me. I have great empathy for Amanda. I have, in my days, been an engineer, a lawyer, and a struggling artist. The first two undertakings rang hollow within for all the years I spent at them. I was never good at either. Doing art – drawing and teaching drawing -- is the only undertaking that pleases me ceaselessly for it's own sake. I’m not good enough at it to be commercially viable (i.e., feed myself) but this doesn’t bother me overly much. I keep doing it because I can't seem to think of anything better to do.

William James said, “Abundance is, in large part, an attitude.”

Wonderful discussion, all.

10/26/2010 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems clear to me that, if you're working your ass off so that you'll be remembered, you're wasting your time. You'll be dead; what do you care if your pictures are remembered? The only valid reason for putting in work above and beyond the call of duty is for personal satisfaction. But I'm a nihilist.

10/26/2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm and Scruffy-- it seems to me that religious inspiration for art, and religious justification for life, have the potential to both open up the whole discussion and close it down.

For some, the gift of faith answers all of the uncomfortable questions posed by this topic and therefore eliminates the need for any further inquiry. Many people who I deeply respect have found this a meaningful solution. Other people, who I also respect, reject this as a closed argument, saying they require a rationally based, non-circular argument in order to take comfort from a solution. But regardless, both sides recognize the richness and profundity of the marriage of art and religion.

I have read a fair amount about Michelangelo and Rembrandt but I cannot say how personally devout they were. I know they were religious enough to compete for commissions on religious themes from religious patrons, but that doesn't tell us much about what was in their hearts. I once pretended to like McDonald's hamburgers to win an assignment illustrating a poster for McDonald's.

I agree with Jesse that the notion that "human praise is our only lasting reward" is pretty uninspiring. At the same time, I think the consensus view would be that the transition from the age of faith to the Renaissance, when the artistic focus shifted from the next world to the delights of the here and now, resulted in a bump up in the quality of art.

But if you are looking to gnaw on one particular sub-issue in this field, I would be very interested in your views on balancing the religious justification for art with the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating speed that will eventually make the universe incapable of sustaining life. (One has to wonder if Achilles would have made the same choice if he knew that his "immortal" glory would not be quite so immortal.)This fact not only takes some of the fun out of teleology, it raises (at least for me) questions about the meaning of this "inheritance from the lord as a reward" that Jesse was describing. If you believe that the ending at least partially determines the meaning of everything that has gone before, that's a heck of an ending with which to wrestle.

10/26/2010 4:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Erin-- I think we all have to be prepared to "give it a hearty go." The trick is going to be, what direction do you "go" in? Do you live for the moment, as it urges in the Rubaiyat? Do you apply all your energy to fame and fortune in art, like Kinkade or Jeff Koons? Do you "go" in the direction of Cyrano (or a zen master), searching for personal artistic meaning in isolation? One thing is for sure, no matter what path we choose, you are correct that we will "see what happens." I just wish that it didn't happen after it's too late for us to change our path.

Øyvind Lauvdahl-- I love that book!

Anonymous wrote, "It seems clear to me that, if you're working your ass off so that you'll be remembered, you're wasting your time."

Arthur Koestler once said that "any author would trade 100 readers today for 1 reader 100 years from now." I understand what he meant by that. One likes to think one contributes something of enduring value that survives at least the first casual winnowing. But I think most people crave fame because it gives them a second (or third or millionth) opinion that they have made the right choices with their life. (You need no more proof than Britney Spears to demonstrate that's not correct.)

10/26/2010 7:07 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I've wondered in silence many times where or even if I will get anywhere, doing what I love. It is very, very hard on confidence and drive to realize you may not get anywhere with it; so as one of those eternally struggling artists working in obscurity, thank you for acknowledging those of us who've fallen by the wayside.

10/26/2010 9:02 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

What difference to Achilles did his choice make? I can't resist a Nisrgadatta quote, " By imagining that you are born as so-and-so, you become a slave to the so-and so. The essence of slavery is to imagine yourself to be a process, to have a past and future, to have history. In fact, we have no history, we are not a process, we do not develop, nor decay: also see all as a dream and stay out of it."

I always thought Churchill nail it in Painting as Past Time when he wrote once one becomes aware of light and shadow one will never be alone again.

10/26/2010 9:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote, "I think I would dispute that the goal of the religion, with respect to the art, is for the artist to live on in the glory of memory. It is for his thoughts and his moments to live on, preserved in an aesthetic package, as a real thing."

Kev, your comment reminds me of that famous Woody Allen line, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying!" Unfortunately, that does not seem to be an option, so it would appear that living on in memory or encapsulated in an "aesthetic package" are the two leading consolation prizes (unless, of course, we end up looking down from a cloud, wearing a white bath robe and holding a harp, listening to all that praise that future generations will undoubtedly shower upon our efforts). I think the useful point about "disegno" is that it is not posterity oriented, it is the process by which the soul realizes itself as each hour is expended.

10/27/2010 11:17 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David Apatoff said...
"I would be very interested in your views on balancing the religious justification for art with the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating speed that will eventually make the universe incapable of sustaining life."

David,
If I may interrupt, I would answer that:
1.The "discovery" is theoretical/unprovable at this point in time and is not strictly observable and repeatable, being the two criteria of a classic definition of scientific truth.
2.Even if it should be true, it does not necessarily negate eschatological predictions in the Judeo-Christian tradition:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."

10/27/2010 12:01 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I think the useful point about "disegno" is that it is not posterity oriented, it is the process by which the soul realizes itself as each hour is expended.

The process can be wonderful or it can be torture. The point is the object you've made is a living engine of your feelings... a kind of surrogate self from a particular moment in life. As such, it not only entertains, educates and communes with an audience, it also gives you a little bit of your best self to hang out with on rainy days.

And I don't think the idea of legacy should be so easily discounted. Wanting to be well thought of after death drives many older people I know.

And the reason this matters is not because of "looking down from a cloud and wanting to hear praise." But being at peace with the moral idea of yourself and your work and the care of your family at the end of life.

Thoughts about the well being of one's family after one's death is an expression of love considered through the prism of solace. The material ways in which you care for your family extend beyond you and are real. This pleases you while you are alive. The longer one's care can extend past death, the more pleased and reconciled one will be at death with one's efforts. (This is why absolute morale is necessary for any warrior in the heat of battle.)

Thoughts about artistic posterity are similar. Harvey Dunn said the principle necessary ingredient to art is love. Inness said this too. But this isn't necessarily a love for one's family, but for everybody and everything. This is the ideal state I was referring to... a living satisfaction that your care and love will have extended duration beyond your demise.

Btw, Woody Allen also said he's a Transcendental Existential Atheist. That about sums me up too.

10/27/2010 3:04 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

David,

I wouldn't agree that answering "all of the uncomfortable questions posed by this topic... eliminates the need for any further inquiry." Science and theology show us that answering any set of questions results in yet more questions.

I'd also disagree that theories of an afterlife are necessarily circular or irrational, but that question certainly won't be settled here.

What can be established is that the dilemma facing artists who reject the afterlife has not been shared by most artists throughout history. We don't know precisely which dogmas Rembrandt or Michelangelo embraced (though Rembrandt apparently had no qualms about fornication!), but it's a safe bet that they and their fellows believed in an afterlife, given how prevalent and basic that view was at the time. Whether or not they were justified in this belief, it should illuminate their motives. When Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel, he probably wasn't making a cynical grab at a passing commission, or an existential cry into a deaf universe. Like most Italians of his day, he probably felt that his efforts were pleasing to a God with whom he would hopefully spend eternity.

I'd agree that the increased willingness in the Renaissance to celebrate our earthly life resulted in better art, but I see this as a fuller understanding of the Christian worldview, rather than a departure from it. Jesus certainly wasn't the Ivory Tower type exemplified by the monks of the Medieval period. His words and miracles straddled both earthly and heavenly concerns, and Renaissance painters' grasp of this duality helped them surpass their forebears.

"I would be very interested in your views on balancing the religious justification for art with the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating speed that will eventually make the universe incapable of sustaining life. ...This fact not only takes some of the fun out of teleology, it raises (at least for me) questions about the meaning of this 'inheritance from the lord as a reward' that Jesse was describing."

As etc pointed out, the inheritance described by the Bible is beyond this finite universe, so the death of this universe won't spoil it.

I'd also disagree that the end of this universe takes the fun out of teleology. Planned obsolescence and value engineering are fascinating subjects.

10/27/2010 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow David,
I've posted on your blog in the past but due to some personal information I'm going drop, I have to be anonymous this round.
First I have to say I usually agree with you 98% percent of the time but after reading this I thought aliens abducted you and replaced you with someone who doesn't understand art.
I actually have an advantage on this argument because I am in my early thirties and a year ago I was diagnosed with a very aggressive and rare cancer called angiosarcoma. I've come to terms with it and at this point I am very aware that my time is short (I haven't given up though!).
So I know how it feels to be at deaths bed. I know how it feels to know that my name will never be up there with my illustration heros. Believe it or not I do not struggle with this failure. I do make a living as an illustrator but it's for a company and the illustrations are not something I have much control over.
But I do a lot painting in my free time and I work very hard to improve and keep getting better. The peace and satisfaction I get from my art could never be matched by any amount of fame.
When you make art, how famous you will be should be the farthest thing from your mind.
Considering my situation, I'm in a very good place and I owe it to a lifetime of hard work and dedication. I know that I make good art and after a very long time of doubt and self discipline, I finally feel confident enough to call myself an artist. When it's all said and done my pictures will be what defines who I am... or was. And it doesn't matter how many people have heard of me. My "legacy" will most likely die with my friends and family unless some one mentions me on their blog 50 years from now. ;) Fame is no way to measure how successful your art is.
But this got me thinking, and I don't know if you realized it, but you might have solved that age old riddle of "The difference between fine art and illustration"! I think the the recognition thing only applies to illustration.

I know what it feels like to be an unsuccessful Illustrator, and I know how it feels to be a successful artist. I know what the true reward is in art.

10/28/2010 2:07 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Here here anonymous. Success and failure are just thought forms. The great gift is life itself. Not whether we are remembered or not. "some remnants of history have casually escaped the shipwreck of time. And as flotsam and jetsam the lighest ideas float to the surface while all that is solid and worthwhile sinks." Francis Bacon

10/28/2010 8:24 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन, Judas Priest certainly had more than its share of followers, despite the fact that it was probably second only to KISS as a capitalist metal band that packaged wild freedom for mercenary purposes. (You can get a ring tone for your phone now that says, "So it's off with the ties / No compromise / Wanna taste what it's like to be free." ) Hard to imagine anyone much over the age of 13 being persuaded by that. Do you have anything good from the Carpenters or Pat Boone?

James King-- it's interesting that you've been an engineer, a lawyer and an artist, and can compare the satisfaction that you derived from each. As someone who is currently combining different disciplines, I tend to think that each one benefits from the combined perspectives. For example, I checked out your life drawings, which I enjoyed very much, and thought that your appreciation for anatomical structures and the lines with which you conveyed them benefitted from your engineer's eye.

Ken wrote: "I've wondered in silence many times where or even if I will get anywhere, doing what I love." Ken, as more and more of the comments are beginning to suggest, it seems to depends on where exactly you want to "get." If you have your sites set on getting "anywhere," you can surely get there. But if you are looking for reward in the form of fame and fortune, the great actuarial tables are probably against you. I don't underestimate the importance of "recognition." With recognition comes a wider audience, increased communication, inspiration and influence. And I don't underestimate the importance of money. It's hard to do your best work when you're worried about food and rent all the time. And I don't underestimate the importance of fame. Having a consensus from your peers that you have done something noteworthy and are on the right track can be empowering (and can also give you tools you can use to accomplish much good). But having said all that, you don't need any of these to achieve that sublime experience that K quotes from Cyrano: " When I have made a line that sings itself, so that I love the sound of it -- I pay myself a hundred times." And that is really being "somewhere."

10/28/2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc etc, in my next career I plan to be a physical cosmologist. I am always astonished that cosmologists can speak with such certainty and precision about what happened in the first 3 minutes after the Big Bang when i can't speak with certainty and precision about what happened last night.

I do think there is a little more certainty to the acceleration of the universe (and its consequences) than you suggest; ever since the supernova which suggested this phenomenon over a decade ago, the acceleration theory has been corroborated by half a dozen separate techniques for measurement. I agree, that doesn't make it a fact yet, but if cosmologists have encountered solid contrary evidence I am unaware of it and would love to hear about it.

I also agree with you that this future, if true, does not necessarily negate all eschatological predictions. But keep in mind we are not talking about the earth being wiped out in a fireball from a wrathful god. We are talking about what I suspect is a fairly new challenge for teleologists: finding meaning or purpose (religious or otherwise) if it is proven that, from the beginning of the universe it was fated to dissipate in a vast, empty void where life will be impossible forever. No hiding place. Anywhere.

If you believe that behavior has consequences and life has meaning, if you believe in "intelligent design" or a benevolent deity, if you believe in the idea of progress or human perfectability, then it seems to me that an inevitable lifeless eternity would require a few mental adjustments. (I recognize, of course, that some type of divine intervention could intercede and reverse the trajectory of the universe, or that heaven might provide a safe harbor on a non-physical plane, or that scientists might find an adjacent multiverse bubble to slip into. People are free to rely on that if they wish).

10/28/2010 10:04 AM  
Blogger Jim Paillot said...

What a terrific read, David.

10/28/2010 11:47 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
I should have clarified; I was not disputing an accelerating universe. Nor am I claiming expertise in physical cosmology.

10/28/2010 12:59 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

You've got it comin' and Pats got it to give!

Karens voice… hauntingly beautiful.

Happy Halloween!

""from the beginning of the universe it was fated to dissipate in a vast, empty void where life will be impossible forever. No hiding place. Anywhere.""
~ Have no fears my friend. (You heartless bastard)

10/28/2010 5:13 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom, I looked into Nisrgadatta's philosophies and if I understand what he's saying, he and I don't have a whole lot in common (although I am a Bacon fan).

Kev, if disegno "entertains, educates and communes with an audience," then perhaps I misunderstood the concept. Going back to the title of this post: if an artist falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does he make a sound? Does our art have to be seen to matter? Achilles would say yes, if posterity doesn't know you've been here, that undermines the experience. Cyrano's quote, on the other hand, suggests that it doesn't matter whether anyone hears that thud when we finally hit the ground-- that the act of creation, in the moment that we are creating, is sufficient vindication for what we do. The audience (meaning, posterity) may be a nice fringe benefit, but we shouldn't rely on it because it will cause us to focus on the wrong things. It sounds like disegno is more of a social process than I thought.

Etc., etc.--I am not an expert in physical cosmology either. Any experts out there?

10/28/2010 10:59 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous: I have been thinking about how to respond to your comment. Words get superficial awfully quick in such a situation. Let me just say that I am honored and touched by the perspective you have chosen to share here. You certainly have unique credentials to weigh in on this subject.

I am impressed by the way you have chosen to respond to this turn of events, and I only hope I would be able to react half as well.

10/28/2010 11:20 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I thought I had already given the answer to that question.

You, the artist, are your first audience. The moment you finish a work of art, you are no longer the person who is working on it, but instead become its first owner, first fan, and first friend. It is already seen, and if being seen makes art matter, then it already matters.

But if making art for yourself matters just as much as making it for an audience, the wonder is, why make art when you can just be in some profession. And the answers there are complicated, but one of the answers is the love of doing art, as you have mentioned. Or let us use the word joy instead, just to keep things a bit more grounded.

But, the crafting of a work of art, a real quality piece, takes hard damn work in order to invest the piece with joy. In other words, in order to manifest the joy, the process simply cannot be joyful from start to finish. The beginning might be joyful, the last few strokes joyful, but the middle is a knife fight. Unless you are a stickler for preparation, in which case the entire matter becomes something methodical like engineering.

Now what is the difference between a great artist who is compelled to achieve a sense of joy in his work and a mediocre one who is satisfied just to finish the picture and get it out the door?

And the answer is the will to manifest joy.

Now, why would someone be compelled to bring joy into the world? Why would someone go through hell to manifest joy?

I really think too much emphasis is put on the joy of the process. Probably by people who have never had a work get bogged down.

The manifestation of joy is the main value. It is an achievement. Process is just a way to pass the time pleasantly.

IMHO, anyway,
kev

10/29/2010 1:18 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jim Paillot-- thanks so much!

अर्जुन, I never noticed it before but Karen Carpenter had kind of a Bettie Page thing going with her hair. Very nice.

10/29/2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger Aaron Becker said...

What wonderful thoughts everyone has shared. And on a blog comment space! Without ranting?! My first response to the article was perhaps a bit simple, but it's still how I feel - we're all just plain fortunate to even have the choice to either devote every part of ourselves to our art (or not). Even when it's a struggle, art making is a choice - one that many in this world never get the opportunity to experience. The question of the importance of recognition in what we do, or questions around the difference between fine art and illustration are important ones to consider, but consider this as well - we're damn lucky to get to have these pursuits in the first place!

10/29/2010 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is just as vulgar to work for the sake of posterity as to work for the sake of money." - Orson Welles

10/31/2010 4:18 PM  
Blogger JonInFrance said...

I just love those Provensen illustrations. To have fun and bring pleasure to some - few or many. When I think of all the time I've spent at work.. hmmm

10/31/2010 6:21 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

David, great post (as usual).

Everyone else, great comments.

Much food for thought.

I have been grappling with this question in one form or another for several years. David, as a Christian, I can say that while my theology places a certain perspective on my life, it certainly does not solve the questions and struggles regarding this topic—especially, on a personal level. Religious or not, we are all still human and struggle to understand our place in this world (whether or not we believe our place is assured in the hereafter). I certainly can see where one can use religion as a discussion stopper on this issue, but I think those who do are too easily denying the messiness and conflicting yearnings of our humaness and the complexity of this life...whether it is all there is or not.

11/02/2010 10:51 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm wrote: "I wouldn't agree that answering "all of the uncomfortable questions posed by this topic... eliminates the need for any further inquiry." Science and theology show us that answering any set of questions results in yet more questions."

Jesse, while I agree that is often true, in this area questions about what happens-- if anything-- on the other side of the veil do seem to be the end of all but the most unsubstantiated speculation. People may validly wonder whether they will retain individual consciousness in an afterlife, just as they may wonder about the type of music they will play on their celestial harps, but in the absence of any data whatsoever (especially data received through our five senses), it seems to me that you either act on faith or you don't.

I'm not suggesting that one path is superior to the other. I'm just saying that when it comes to the impact of faith on our justification for art, if you believe your art has meaning because it honors the deity, or that the beauty you create in this world needs no additional justification because it means another jewel in your crown when you get to heaven, then it seems to me you no longer have to be concerned about the response of your earthly audience. Fame? Fortune? Legend? They're nice, but not necessary to answer the questions posed in this post. Who needs them when your reward is in the next world, beyond the reach of critics?

You also write, "I'd also disagree that theories of an afterlife are necessarily circular or irrational,"

I don't think they are irrational either. Would you settle for suprarational?

Thanks for another thoughtful comment.

Aaron Becker: Thanks very much, and I'm glad to have you here. I was impressed by the work on your site. And I have to agree, I am proud of the "wonderful thoughts everyone has shared. And on a blog comment space! Without ranting?!" It's truly the best thing about this blog; I plant one little carrot seed and look at the diverse and interesting garden of reactions from such thoughtful people.

Anonymous: Did Orson Welles say what does motivate him to work?

11/02/2010 7:09 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
Do you believe there to be any correlation between atheistic materialism and nihilism, especially in regard to some of the absurdities that have been touted as art (for example Manzoni's Merda d'Artista)? It seems to me that historically their rise in popularity went hand in hand.

11/03/2010 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

To be a great artist you need to be a special talent. the big problem is that most of us aren't that special.No matter how hard you try.That may be an unpalatable truth, but truth it is.

11/03/2010 1:17 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Wow, nice art work Aaron. The Chrismas Carol paintings are great.

11/03/2010 10:35 PM  
Anonymous larry said...

Rockwell may have recognized that the story of his life was the story of my pictures, and selfishly, I'm happy for it. But in the end, was he at peace with that, or did he have regrets?

11/05/2010 8:44 AM  
Blogger Jana Vengerova said...

fuckin art mään.

11/06/2010 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Brian Gray said...

Love your blog. Great stuff!

11/10/2010 2:39 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc. etc. wrote: "Do you believe there to be any correlation between atheistic materialism and nihilism?"

I don't think I have a succinct answer for this. I understand how atheistic materialism might rob some types of people of their purpose, so in that sense I concur when you ask if there is "any correlation." Furthermore, I can see how that loss of purpose might in turn erode the quality of art, or even the motivation to make art. But the field is so rich and there are so many counter-examples, I guess I am not inclined to say there is any necessary (or even likely) correlation. When you think about the players in this field-- Kiekegaard and Nietzsche, the Dadaists and the existentialists-- and the quality of art that has sprung from atheistic materialism and nihilism, I would say that any answer I might offer that could fit in a nutshell would surely belong in one.

Alex wrote: "most of us aren't that special. No matter how hard you try.That may be an unpalatable truth, but truth it is."

Alex, an even more unpalatable truth is that many among us who are very special die anonymous deaths, while many with no special ability but good PR skills die comfortably with their heads resting on the bosom of fame and fortune.

Tom, I agree!

Larry wrote: "in the end, was he at peace with that, or did he have regrets?" Larry, I don't think Rockwell felt he had much of a choice. He felt he was a wimp with no other possibilities. (Wasn't it Herodotus who said, "such strengths as a man has, those strengths he should use?") I do know that Rockwell was in therapy, as was his wife.

11/10/2010 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Joe Procopio said...

You certainly know your art, but you are also blessed with the soul of a poet. This piece elegantly captures the sentiments that have driven me to start an imprint I've named Lost Art Books from my new publishing venture, Picture This Press. Too many wonderful artists, even ones well known in their time, have slipped into obscurity. I hope to do my lilttle part to remedy that with these books. I am currently working on a book devoted to Heinrich Kley's book illustration work (almost none of which has been collected in an English-language edition). My first three books were devoted to cartoonist Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman, cartoonist/caricaturist E.T. Reed, and newspaper artist Frederick Richardson. All titans in their day; now all but forgotten.

If you're so inclined, please check out my Web site and let me know what you think...

www.LostArtBooks.com

Thanks for your wonderful blog...I've learned more from it over the past few years then any other blog I visit.

Warm regards,

Joe Procopio

11/15/2010 12:43 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Joe Procopio-- Thanks very much for the kind words. They mean a lot. And thanks especially for the work you seem to be doing with Lost Art Books. The names "Kley" and "Zim" are well known to me and definitely worthy of a new lease on life. Other names are less familiar but I look forward to learning about them.

From your web site it looks like you have managed to get nice, clean reproductions-- always a challenge when dealing with material of that nature-- and that you have assembled a very nice library of images. I look forward to acquiring some of them.

11/15/2010 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Joe Procopio said...

Thanks for checking the site out, as well as for commenting on the quality of the reproductions. Most of my production time on these books has been invested in getting the best quality scans I can from the source material, and then meticulously refining the images in Photoshop in order to get a faithful reproduction when I go to press. I've been lucky to have some generous mentors share their expertise in this area.

I look forward to reading your foreword to the next Mary Perkins book. Charles Pelto has done such a nice job with these reprint volumes...it gives me something to aspire to!

11/15/2010 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I've only just seen this moving post, David, which is, as others have said, beautifully written. There is a third way, however: just doing it for your own joy and enlightenment and for those friends and family members you care to show your work to. This is what I've been doing for many years. Occasionally I enter a competition, one of which I won, or exhibit locally. However I was recently offered a commercial project to illustrate something and am still wondering whether to do it - there is something wonderful in just producing art for art's sake! Michael

11/16/2010 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear ya'll, if you make art to make strangers happy with themselves, then you have truly f***ed yourself in the a**. Art can only be made for yourself, especially something as low risk as 2D visual art (compared to other mediums like cinema, that demand funding that no normal person could begin to put together). The creation process is only the most fulfilling when the artist's most important audience is him/herself.

This article has proven once and for all that commercial illustration of any kind is tantamount to pricking yourself with 1000 hypodermic needles and hoping that none of them have AIDS.

Readers, when you begin your eternal journey as a rotting pile of decaying earth, I hope that you can find solace in the fact that a bunch of people can use your life's work as social points for their own rotten egos.

Wacka wacka.

11/25/2010 2:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Michael-- Thanks for writing. I agree there is a middle path which can be very rewarding, although I think it is difficult to walk that tightrope for too long. For example, it is great to create art for your own joy and enlightenment but I think that some time before the end of your life you start to wonder whether your "art" is really just play therapy. You wonder how good you were really capable of being, what other people might think of your work, how you would fare if you competed against them... I think it is natural to want to improve and even excel in your art over time, but it can be hard to assess your own excellence and worth if you are your only audience.

12/02/2010 1:28 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / Wacka Wacka wrote: "Art can only be made for yourself.... The creation process is only the most fulfilling when the artist's most important audience is him/herself."

Wow... are you revealing after all of these millennia that art has no communication function or social role? I wish you'd spoken up sooner, it could have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble.

12/02/2010 11:00 PM  
Blogger anarchist said...

CB Dobson, however wins my prize for Best Hair.

12/20/2010 8:10 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anarchist: truly, if C.B. Dobson has any hope of immortality it is through his hair.

12/20/2010 8:26 AM  

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