Myths about Art and Artists

Myths and legends about visual artists and art have been around since ancient times. To an outsider, art was always enveloped in a halo of mystery. Just think of the legend about the painters of Ancient Greece Parrhasius and Zeuxis:

“Once, in a contest with Parrhasius in realism, Zeuxis painted some grapes so believably that flocks of birds flew down to eat them. Parrhasius, on the other hand, painted a curtain that appeared to be covering his painting, misleading Zeuxis who tried to draw it aside. According to the legend, Zeuxis said: “I misled birds, but Parrhasius misled Zeuxis.”.”

Nevertheless, until the 19th century, an artist’s role was limited to producing commissioned artwork. Orders were made by religious and state organizations, kings, the wealthy, and others.

The concept of fine art originated in the 19th century, when artists began to perceive themselves as independent creative individuals who created works of art expressing their ideas and emotions. Artists presented to the world their views of art and the world itself, which often disaccorded with conventional views. One example are the impressionists, who were stoned by audiences for creating paintings that violated the art traditions of the time. Artists went off on their own and often had no support or sponsorship. Many of them really struggled to survive. The process of creating paintings often entails deprivation, lack of understanding, and some painters succumbed to a tragic ending of their life. We all know of the fate of Van Gogh who did not sell paintings in his entire life and was able to paint only because of his brother’s support. Starting in this period, myths and legends about art and artists began to emerge in great numbers and grew exponentially in the 20th century.

It is hard to list all the myths that are widespread among those observing the life of artists from afar. Here are just a few of them:

1) The poor artist myth.

In reality, many Renaissance painters received large financial compensations from kings and churches for their orders. In the 20th century, Picasso and Salvador Dali did not starve either. The fate of artists differed, and much depended on the environment and each particular situation. Contemporary researchers have calculated how much money Van Gough received from his brother, concluding that based on his income, Van Gough was middle-class, although Irving Stone’s book about Van Gough creates the impression of the artist’s deprivation and poverty.

2) To create good art, an artist must suffer.

Suffering does not guarantee the creation of masterpieces. Suffering is a block for the artist that distracts him or her from concepts and ideas. Suffering is a hindrance, rather than a facilitator to an artist’s focus on his or her work.

3) Many artists are alcoholics, drug addicts, and frivolous people who have no traditional family values.

If we think of Modigliani, an alcoholic and a miserable loner, this is true. However, it does not mean that all artists were and are this way. Human beings are just designed to remember events and facts that are out of the ordinary.

4) Most artists, especial geniuses, suffer from mental illness.

It is easy to figure out who was the first to carry this tune: thanks to the theory of Cesare Lombroso this idea became well-established in our society.

5) Anyone can be an artist and paint like some of the painters. Waving brushes around is easy.

Hmm… There is not much to say . Pick up a brush and wave it around as much as you want. Artists and experts will see what you came up with.

6) An artist can be recognized only after his or her death. Paintings will also be sold and have a high price tag only after death. So in the meantime, you – the artist, should suffer and carry the heavy cross you decided to bear.

7) Artists are lazy. It is easy to paint, but they want good money for it… Well, excuse me...

8) Traditional art is dying out because new technologies are emerging.

New technologies that enable us to create non-traditional art are just a tool. The nature of art, with its ideas and goals, remains traditional. There are still many who paint with a brush and paint, just as artists did centuries ago. Is it not a fascinating task to create something with one’s own hands?

These are just a few of the myths whose influence I have experienced personally. A few years ago, someone told me that if I want to become a real artist, I need to become a drug addict, alcoholic, prostitute, homeless. Ugh...