Woe is the contemporary artist, who’s work struggles against the tides of social obscurity.
We are drowning in images, of the perfect, the serious and the profound. Every time I open my phone, there is another beautiful image, an artwork beyond my imagination and capabilities; leading me to look at my own sultry pictures, and sigh. This is the existence of the modern day tortured artist.
Ok - so perhaps I am a little melodramatic, but surely some of you out there can relate! We are living in the image age, and artwork is being created and disseminated faster than ever before. Unlike many artists of history, we are not merely comparing ourselves to those works on gallery walls, but to every individual with a camera phone and an Instagram handle. Don’t get me wrong, there is some seriously amazing talent out there, which needs to be praised. Social media gives an artist a platform to be seen and heard, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. It is far more diverse than the typical white walled (or should I say washed) gallery spaces, and breaks divisions between so-called high or low art forms. But with the sheer volume of artwork competing for viewers' attention, it is easy for artists to feel a burden to out-do all the rest.
Yet I have been asking myself, and now turn the question to you, why do we torture ourselves so? As an artist, I find myself always reaching for this perfect image that I have created in my mind, and yet inevitably what I create falls short of that. And what is even more frustrating is that a work I may be happy with in the present, will one day become something I look upon and pity. I tell myself this is good - it means I am always improving, growing and changing. But I also think that I am critiquing my work subconsciously through the lens of others - through the lens of comparison.
Work by Elaoise
When we think of the tortured artist as a historical figure, as a social or cultural symbol, what is she? In my mind, she (historically made out to be a he, but I digress…) is making work out of anguish and pain, toiling away alone; such grave and serious circumstances allowing their work to speak to the masses. It becomes a profound masterpiece. We only have to think of the world's obsession with Van Gogh to see the point I’m making. And so today, when I scroll through my feed of beautifully poignant, political or emotionally charged works, I wonder whether my work stands up. Tell me, must I always be sad to make good art? And must I always be sad about the work I make to progress as an artist?
Let this not undermine the amazing power and impact these ‘tortured’ artworks can create. It is the captivating nature of these images, that make them so tantalising to the artist. We cannot deny the yearning to create something heart-achingly moving. But must it be at the cost of our own sanity? And must we endure to look upon artist after artist's work and compare ours to theirs, with the hope to ‘better’ oneself?
If you thought I’d have an answer for you, then unfortunately you’re reading the wrong article.
But what I can say is: I’m going to try do better at not worrying about doing better. If ‘better’
means making what I think society wants me to. If I want to make art out of pain, then so be it. If I want to make art out of joy, then so be it. And if I still end up wallowing in self-criticism, then at least I can laugh at myself. Because now I will see the hypocrisy of feeling like a tortured artist, when the only person doing the torturing, is myself.