I’m currently reading Phoebe Hoban’s 2010 biography Alice Neel: The Art Of Not Sitting Pretty, which led me to watch Neel, the documentary by her grandson Andrew Neel. It was incredible. I cried several times because as a painter, you cannot help but be in love with her. She is the consummate painter’s painter. Hell, she is the artist’s artist. No one will ever be like her again simply because of our economic times. It’s impossible to be The Bohemian Artist anymore, full of genius and obscurity. The infrastructure is just not there anymore. BUT. I did make a connection between the kinds of paintings she made during the apex of Abstract Expressionism and the kinds of negotiations painters, especially figure painters, must make today in the digital age.
Part of the sacrifice of being an artist in 2012 is that there is no way to go back to a romantic notion of the bohemian artist. We will never get to be, accidentally, Alice Neel. We will never get to live like Giacometti or Picasso or Pollack.
But, what being an artist in 2012 does mean is that by paying some attention to the digital integration in our daily lives and by being a bit clever about how you sell your work and how you brand yourself, you can still manage to live the life an artist should live, the kind of life an artist needs to live.
In 2012, an aspiring artist cannot hope to become a Hirst or a Currin or a Koons. To do that is to miss the mark entirely on why we become visual artists. If one wishes to become a star, if one dare cultivate his/her own fame or celebrity, one is doing it wrong. When you begin to look at the finished product rather than the act of making the product, when you seek to have a gallery opening rather than the work to necessitate a show, that’s when you know you’re doing it wrong.
Technology and digital connectivity are choking our frame of references, our ability to create new thoughts and sustain concentration, in a way very akin to the Ab-Exers. Alice Neel painting portraits in the time of the hurricane force of Abstract Expressionism was seen as so out of fashion, so old-timey, but she weathered the storm and came out triumphant.
All forms of art matter. All art forms inform one another. You cannot remove one or choke one out of the room in the hopes of making more room for one medium over another. Digital work does not improve with the absence of painting. Abstract painting doesn’t improve by removing figure painting. Our digital world is best understood through the common reference of analog art.
And look at more Alice Neel, for pete’s sake. It’s good for you.