Artists Who Work

Do you imagine artists working alone, in a basement somewhere, detached from society? Do you imagine them being poor, bad with money, unable to function well in the everyday world of work?

This image is mostly false. Artists are embedded in the world, just like the rest of us, according to a recent article by Katy Waldman in the New York Times. She points out that this idea of a lone genius artist is “a recent phenomenon, a product of our fetishization of genius.” We like to think that our artists are geniuses, and that if they spend too much time in the real world, “their talent can start to feel corruptible.”

But most painters live in the world and work in the world. Even the most famous painters that we know from the past, almost all “had to hustle at one point.” For most artists, “The act of producing art can be anything but romantic.” It’s hard work, and artists need to get away and take a break from it, just like everyone else needs a vacation every now and then.

Our idea that artists live apart from the world “supposes that aesthetic experience is categorically different from everyday experience, and that muse-fueled invention floats apart from earthier forms of productivity.” But this isn’t what artists themselves would say. Every artist that I know emphasizes how much hard work it is, how much of it isn’t romantic, and doesn’t have much to do with romantic ideas like inspiration or genius.

Katy Waldman, “Working, artist.” March 22, 2018. The New York Times Sunday style magazine.