Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Amarulentia: Bitterness in Art.

"The other day I was asked, “What makes a successful artist?” . . . That’s a really complicated question, I could be giving you a lecture. There are so many processes of validation, legitimation, different benchmarks of credibility which are not just financial . . . Rather than waffling on about that, I just said, “A successful artist is one who doesn’t feel bitter.” And I really, really believe that. There are multi-millionaire artists who somehow feel bitter about their lack of recognition, and then there are people who are doing their own thing and finding emotional satisfaction in it."

                                                                                                        --- Sarah Thornton

noun: bitterness; plural noun: bitternesses
  1. 1.
    sharpness of taste; lack of sweetness.
    "the lime juice imparts a slight bitterness"
    synonyms:sharpness, acidity, acridity, tartness, sourness, harshness; More
    "the bitterness of the medicine"
    resentment, rancor, indignation, grudge, spite, sullenness, sourness, churlishness, moroseness, petulance, pique, peevishness;
    "there was no bitterness between them"
    unpleasantness, disagreeableness, nastiness;
    "the bitterness of war"
  2. 2.
    anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment.
    "he expressed bitterness over his dismissal without notice"

Bitterness is no stranger to the arts. In prolonged conversations, it rarely arises, often in fleeting fragments, often sublimated through humor. Art is a very difficult path through life. 95% of all arts majors will end up working in other fields after they graduate. I would say that at least 3/4ths of all the artists I know have day jobs, spouses supporting them, entitlements, retirement, or other extraneous sources of income. In the Bay Area there are a few thousand people who consider themselves artists. Creative Loafing, Tampa Bay Times, La Gaceta, Tampa Trib, and perhaps a half- dozen bloggers who write about the arts, most one show/event/artist per week. All but five merely report on upcoming events. The odds of receiving recognition in the community are slim.

Add to this the financial lack of recognition in the Bay area for most, relatively low levels of education in the public at large, the recent/current economic hard times, and it becomes apparent that this is a trying, if not hostile environment for artists, what James Rosenquist called "A cultural wasteland" (specifically referring to Tampa).

For several artists and gallerists I know, these problems have led to bitterness about art in general, other artists, the city/state they are in, the viewers, art fairs, the market, auctions, very successful artists, etc.

Besides the negativity and spiritual acid rain that goes with it, the time wasted on bitching and trying to convince others to adopting their world view, the saddest part is the paralysis that ensues instead of problem-solving, artistically evolving and forging ahead.

Besides recognition, financial reward, acceptance in the community, and fulfillment of expectations, all artists are, whether they like it or not, small manufacturers. Gallerists are small retailers. Few are aware that they are becoming small business people from the outset. Fewer are prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to attain what they desire in the Art world. What leads to bitterness is that they are also not willing to accept the consequences of their choices. Another harsh reality is that all artists are not created alike. It's not a simple matter of "better than", but also being in the right place/market at the right time. To use a trite example, Van Gogh. Another, Jeff Koons.

Most artists cannot shift their creative persona to cater to a market without soon becoming craftsmen. Use your energies to shift gears, strategize marketing, and either make the sacrifices, or make peace with the way things are. If all fails, start a blog....

--- Luis



  1. Thornton's answer that a successful artist is one who isn't bitter probably stems from the fact that she knows a lot of bitter artists, or maybe disappointed and unsatisfied artists. I'm guessing that very few of them are multi-millionaires. Like a lot of articles I've lately read, she seems to downplay making a living at art and places the reason an artist isn't successful and therefore bitter squarely on the artist. That attitude makes it easier not to address other reasons such as this country's historic marginalization of artists. Yes, artists must ultimately own their careers, but they need to do it in a culture that also supports them financially.

  2. I create my art mainly as medicine if someone else gets it great. Not all are out for financial gain or recognition. This is what can cause or start the "bitterness" Vincent Van Gogh was an empath among other things, he wanted everyone to see the beauty as he saw it so much so that the frustration was unbearable for him