Andy Warhol figured everyone was now going to get their fifteen minutes of fame. Courting celebrities and his own celebrity, he needed more time at it than that. J.D. Salinger wrote a novel and a few short stories he didn’t want to talk about. Thus he became famous for not wanting to be famous.
We are living at a time of obsession with celebrity. People substitute celebrities for friends and acquaintances. TV heads are good enough. Question is, I know David Letterman but does he know me?
“There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society,” said the noted priest/psychologist Henri Nouwen. “Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired. Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It has become difficult to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with patience, perseverance, and love.”
“Fame, for a painter,” said Pablo Picasso, “means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated. I am rich.” Emerson thought fame only proof that people were gullible. Valuing study and depth of understanding, the 4th century Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu said, “He who pursues fame at the risk of losing his self is not a scholar.” And Winslow Homer, in yet another moment of privacy, noted, “The most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public.”
Where I live there are green shoots everywhere. Crocuses are here and even daffodils poke through. The park pathways are fresh with volunteers and there are new puppies in the district. In the daily ritual of creation, ordinary plain canvases have paint added and become something they were not. In such a place, at such a time, in such a life, perhaps we do not need to confuse things with fame.
PS: “Fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.” (Sir Francis Bacon)
Esoterica: Last summer I was helping out one of my dealers by personally delivering a large painting to a guy who already had a pile of New York biggies at his various ranches. He was one of those oversize, meat-handed characters who made his dough in oil or something and was now sunning by his pool with his third trophy wife. Contemplating my painting with a cool connoisseur’s eye for about three seconds, he read my name at the bottom and said, “I think I’ve heard of you.” I thanked him for hearing of me, and then his wife thoughtfully added, “We got you because we’d heard of you. You’re fairly famous.”
The true value of art?
by Cynthia Waring Matthews, Ojai, CA, USA
I was dreadfully bitten by that bug of fame. My Uncle Fred created the Waring blender, and my father was a concert pianist. It seemed that the only way to get attention in my family was to do something spectacular and important. I’m not saying my family members were trying for fame, it is how I took it as a young child with my need for attention. I wrote a book, performed a one woman show all over the US, and the elation lasted for about a half hour. Then I read a passage by Henry Miller about art’s purpose was to transform the artist. He had an idea that he took into all his cells, digested them with all the parts of him, all his ideas, desires, creativity, and when he was done he was a different person. Transformed like a butterfly. But the art itself was like dung. He felt embarrassed at giving his books to people because it was dung.
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Fame as illusion
by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
Fame, notoriety, material success – it’s all so elusive and seemingly almost random in how it strikes. In any the arts, whether visual art, music, or another performing art, we all know that there are relatively obscure artists struggling to make ends meet who are probably every bit as good as the “famous” ones past or present. Some of us may even be among that number. Every now and then something clicks in the public awareness and another artist is catapulted, either in slow stages or a sudden head spinning upward trajectory, into the limelight. When that happens, there are probably almost as many downsides as advantages, but most of us would at least like to see what it feels like.
In the larger scheme of our lives, though, to simply do well enough to be able to pursue our creative passion while enjoying our circle of family and friends is enough. Robert, one of the sentences you wrote in your letter is probably the best summation I’ve ever heard of why we artists do what we do. It’s pretty much the same whether a painter, a songwriter, or an author. You said, “In the daily ritual of creation, ordinary plain canvases have paint added and become something they were not.”
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The pap of the famous
by Tony Lebaigue, UK
“Fairly famous” if that isn’t damning with faint praise I don’t know what is — the question isn’t who are you but who is he? I agree with your letter that fame is overblown and celebrity even more so. Here in the UK people pour through magazines that just talk about what some celebrity has done, who they have had dinner with and what night club they came out of drunk. I for my part cannot abide the pap! — it is propagated by media groups who need to draw in gullible people to watch their shows or read their papers and web sites and even politicians look to be celebrities in their own right as if this is another way to get in the press as “any news is good news” — This has now got so bad I have given up buying papers and magazines and get my news from BBC news radio or the Web. I am just hoping the wind will change and people will realize that it’s what you do that counts not what you say you will do.
Other ways to be rewarded
by Rebecca Gottesman, White River Junction, VT,USA
Fame is a constant internal strife and debate for the artist. As a lifelong artist and a teacher of painting, many of my students want the answer of how to make money from their painting. I do not have the key to understanding it myself. I know that the first step is showing up to learn and make the work. The 10,000 hour idea is a reality that some people just don’t have the time and patience to let happen. Outside of that, I do not have the silver bullet to bring them, or myself to fame and glory. I find as soon as that is on the fore front of my motivation, that I have just killed the creative spirit that lives within. Lewis Hyde analyzes in his book called The Gift about the struggle between Eros the subconscious creative self and Logos, the conscious self. He states the “gift” of creativity has to be given away, or at least shared in order to have value. I feel after all these years of trying to make “it” that I have been making “it” and been very successful at it indeed. It has nothing to do with marketing or a gallery relationship – that is a separate issue entirely. Furthermore, today I have the distinct privilege of working part time in our regional hospital as the “visual artist in resident.” I get to paint paintings for patients in their hospital rooms, spending time visualizing for them their special places that make them feel whole, in watercolor, and leave it for them as a gift. I could never do this without putting in my time of practice and find that the rewards I receive by giving “it” away, far outweigh anything I could have ever imagined by pursuing that golden ring called fame. P.S. It’s never too late!
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The joy of the journey
by Bobbi Dunlop, Calgary, AB, Canada
How does one go about becoming ‘famous’ anyway? Has someone yet come up with a “How To” manual or an exact science to do this? The pursuit of this lofty ideal is for the young artist who has the prerequisite energy yet insufficient experience to know what life has in store. Also, does fame equate to success… and does that success equate to fame? I had a similar conversation with my daughter yesterday – in her case a musical pursuit. Looking back on my own life as an artist I cautioned her not to hold out fame as a measure of success nor to set out on this journey with this idea even remotely in mind. Growth and knowledge must be the single-minded pursuit. This is a glorious journey for which there is no end, and I’ve learned it’s one which never gets much easier. I’ve come to realize with much satisfaction and hard won hindsight that the joy ultimately comes from the journey… and perhaps when one achieves the perceived pinnacle of fame there is a trade-off. One hopes that the fame is not reached too soon.
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Why haven’t I heard of you?
by Jim Larwill, Lac Bussiere, QC, Canada
As a poet, for the most part, I have been happy just to show up in a random way at open-sets. New audiences often say, “Why haven’t I heard of you?” Which is maybe the opposite of your story. People who know my work better shake their head as they tell me I am better than any featured poet they keep seeing. “Why am I living in virtual obscurity?” they ask. However; within the Purdyfest tribe of poets I am known as “The Raven King.” Circles of Community verses Corporate Fame?
After my last email to you, you mentioned Leonard Cohen. Given I write in the People’s Poetry Tradition of the lesser known Milton Acorn (Milton and Cohen two polls in Montreal in the early ’60s… a great comparison of a fire-hydrant work shirt and the decadent silk dressing-gown meeting, written by Al Purdy, comes to mind)… maybe one day I will manage to get you talking about the long tradition of People’s Art in Canada vs. Consumer Products and Investments the passing trend. “Did the shelled tempera vaulted public cathedral ceiling of feudal art give way to privately framed cracked oily investments stuck in individual capitalist vaults?”
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Get a consultant to market your fame
by Karen Weihs, Asheville, NC, USA
I have an art PR person that I have consulted with and she is positive that I am famous and need to tap into my fame in my career. Her idea is a good one, “Feel famous and you will be famous. Blog and you will get fame. Put yourself out there, and people will actually feel you are famous and begin to know you are famous.” Yes, I can actually try to feel it, like I can at that moment be in a tongue in cheek channeling moment, it but in reality, I disagree, because I can’t really channel it on a daily basis mostly because I am not feeling the fame like she is trying to get me to do. To explain that, her PR talent is all about how to market, and my talent is all about the art. I feel that artists who can do both really get the goods. I have had moments of getting the goods, done the famous thing at book-signings, and at art shows and it is a great moment, but it is a moment. That 15 minutes of fame goes away and there is the canvas staring at me, reducing me to the next moment in time. The dual feeling of emptiness begins, staring at that canvas with a moment of emptiness coupled with the excitement of possibility, wondering if a jewel will appear, that is real. The let down of trying to be famous is a bigger let down. The real deal is this: “That moment when someone responds to your painting and buys it for the sheer pleasure of owning something that touches their heart, is the real deal, famous or not, no one can take that away from me, and I live in those moments forever.”
(RG note) Karen Weihs is the author of Out of My Mind, Life Lessons as an Oil Painter.
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Has anybody tried multiple identities?
by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada
Many artists seem to be concerned about losing their artistic integrity by satisfying the gallery systems need for consistency. I have some empathy with this issue as I too have requests to produce work similar to previous adventures when my mind and heart are consumed with subjects or processes totally unrelated. I feel blessed that anyone would part with their hard-earned money for anything I do so I do try to accommodate these situations. I’m curious if any artists have successfully managed to maintain multiple identities in order to satisfy their personal need for growth and a commercial need for conformity. I think it could be great fun exploring totally different genres and methodologies while building relationships with divergent galleries and people. Maybe it’s a bit deceptive but could be interesting.
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Pulling the chain on fame
by Nev Sagiba, Katoomba, NSW, Australia
People, people, people everywhere,
nor a friend in sight!
Everywhere we go there’s arguments and fight,
We’ve killed too many Albatrosses,
and also the geese that lay the golden eggs,
And now we pay the price.
You can pull the chain on fame,
And flush it well,
Give me a warm friendship any day,
Family, tribe community, and real life.
But where is it to be found?
Instead just gadgets, money frenzies and acquisition’s hell!
(To paraphrase that famous segment from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
Will integrity win out in the end?
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada
In the cosmic scheme of things, fame will be pretty short-lived for those whose prime motivating force has been to seduce her. There was an artist in my home city who did very well for some time, selling copious amounts of mediocre works and sometimes winning awards for plagiarized paintings the jurors failed to spot. He was shameless about copying other artist’s styles, techniques and even compositions. He became president of an art club which he used to promote himself, without really contributing much to the group. Those of us who were struggling to remain true to our inner muse, naturally felt a combination of anger and frustration. But deep down inside I knew it would only be a matter of time before his karma caught up to him. And so it did. He failed to grow, switched to glass work, and moved to another city, where he may be doing quite well. Those of us who persistently worked at improving and developing according to our own path, are now selling well and many of us are represented by good galleries. Integrity will win out in the end, sometimes it just takes a rather long time. In the meantime, integrity is truly its own reward.
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Are you on substances?
by Dennis Alter, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Robert, Are you stoned every time you write your letter? Some of your observations are so poignant and endearing that I wonder if you write in your constant state or one that’s induced by substances that would have prevented you from participating in your country’s recent Olympics. I deeply appreciate and value your missives. I’m a reformed businessman who is in the process of becoming an artist.
(RG note) Thanks, Dennis. No, not stoned or drunk. I suffer from some obsessive-compulsive disorder of trying to figure it all out. Regarding that last hockey game, the third period was going to be too stressful for me so I took my granddaughter and my dog to the park where I thought I might hear distant car horns if we won. There was no one in the park but ducks, and there were no car horns, and when I got back Carol informed me we were now going into overtime. Too much! So I went into the studio and wrote that letter. Is hockey a substance?
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watercolour painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Kathy Weber of RI, USA, who wrote, “Isn’t it funny that people who become artists depend so much on people like this oil guy, the complete opposite type of personality, because they’re the ones who can afford to buy our paintings.”
And also Shawn Dahlstrom Nelson of East Dennis, MA, USA, who wrote, “This year, I watched the Grammys. I believe there was a time when these awards were meant to reward real musical achievement. This year, it was about ‘Spectacle,’ the flashiest presentation, not the music. In some cases, I find this to be the same way with what we now call ‘Art.’ The media is more impressed with the new, the spectacle, more than the thought, time and effort that goes into our work.” And also Ron Gang of Kibbutz Urim, Israel, who wrote, “This read like something out of a Krishnamurti book. Pointing to what is real – ‘Crocuses are here and even daffodils poke through.’ That’s the real action, not all the sham, plastic, celebrity glitz. Like the message in The Peaceful Warrior. The real message is without words.”
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