Chang: Starve the Artist

by Lulu Chang | 11/6/12 11:00pm

Everyone loves a martyr. From Socrates to Joan of Arc, Jesus to John F. Kennedy, the nobility that naturally accompanies such unfailing resolution and sacrifice is immense, and the praise that follows is unparalleled, though not always deserved. From the notion of martyrdom, however, has emerged a few other only tangentially related and mostly self-produced concepts of suffering for a cause. The starving artist, in particular, is an image that has long captured the attention of a public that loves a lost cause.

The artist seems to fall almost effortlessly into the definition of martyrdom. Eternally underrepresented or misrepresented, infinitely searching for recognition, "starving" becomes the default adjective to precede the title of "artist." But what is the motivation behind pursuing what is widely accepted to be a generally thankless and glamorless livelihood? If the pursuit of their craft is only to garner admiration and attention, it seems that artists undermine the purity of their position: one that should be entirely self-fulfilling and not desirous of external validation. In light of the recent controversy over resources for artists at the Hopkins Center ("Hopkins Center fails to address student needs," Oct. 25), it must be recognized that while a venue and its resources may certainly play a role in perpetuating and disseminating the arts, their shortcomings, whatever they may be, are not starving the artist. If anything, artists are starving themselves.

While this may seem like a rather unfair assertion, we should first return to the idea of the artist at its core. When we delineate between a writer and an author, for example, how exactly are we drawing these differences? Not all writers are authors, or maybe not all authors are writers. Is the act of touching pen to paper enough of a creative and self-fulfilling process to be deemed worthy of authorship, or does it take an appreciative audience to truly authenticate the product? It seems that if the latter is true, the writer can never be satisfied. If the approval of an otherwise unconnected third party becomes necessary for a sense of accomplishment, then the artist's output is nothing more than a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Part of the beauty of artistry is its self-sufficiency. Oftentimes, the best part of making art is just that: making it. And that process is more than the materials involved. Yes, pianists do need pianos to practice and groups need rehearsal space. But as important as facilities are, their scarcity might compel people to view them as even more precious commodities. It is the subjective rarity of art that makes us appreciate it, and perhaps we should apply the same concept to its contributing resources. This is not to say that we should artificially create rarity, but if inconveniences are inevitable, then there is no reason to use them as an excuse. If artists truly seek to create, no mere material consideration will stand in their way. It is part of their immortality.

The second question to consider is whether art must be broadcast in order for it to breathe. Can we claim that the diary is any less viable of a form of expression than a published novel? Even this leaves gray areas, for what happens to works like "The Diary of Anne Frank?" Artistry is self-sufficient, and so is art. Of course, it is only logical that an artist would desire his or her work to be shared, but as it is, there really isn't a barrier. Although it may seem juvenile to proclaim, "Where there's a will, there's a way," it does stand to argue that this cliche isn't entirely untrue, either. Performances, exhibits and galleries don't have to be enormously exposed, or even vastly attended. After all, isn't the point of having such mediums of sharing art to bring joy to both the creator and the receiver? In this case, more than any other, quality really does outshine quantity in importance.

When it comes down to it, artists or rather, aspiring artists stand in their own way more than anyone else ever could. It is in overcoming inhibitions that the artist himself may delete "aspiring" from the title. Art is terrifying in its intimacy. But the artist who refuses to surmount these fears will never be fully satisfied. Artists should be kept hungry, but for the sake of their art, they must stop starving themselves and pave their own way in the dissemination of their craft.

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