The Ugly

by Paul Ruscha

“Be anything… Be a dishwasher, be a garbage collector... Be anything but an artist, unless you can’t be anything else but an artist.” - Joe Goode ~ July, 1964

Joe was being nice to me at the point he made the above statement, but I understood it completely. Right off, I knew I’d never be able to stay committed to one project until it was completed; I just had to start something else which I couldn’t finish, while eyeing yet another field of interest. Something would always distract me from the initial project I was working on; then I would procrastinate its completion until it would find its way into a drawer, a cabinet, a closet; whatever it took for me to hide it from my guilt at not having finished it.

I had always envied the artists who just plugged themselves into their studios and cranked out their work. Whether it was good or bad, to be seen or not; to be bought or sold, or to find itself in cold storage for many years until somebody else discovered it again and wanted to see more of it. Therein, the work was given renewed exposure to a larger audience who might then care to buy it. How did they make the decision to start working on their latest inspiration? And without losing concentration, how did they transform their ideas into such original works of art that I’ve always love to ponder?

It has always puzzled me at how most artists cope with the feeling that they’ve poured most of their youth and prime years into the making of art that is perhaps only realized toward the end of their lives... or if even then. It must be fulfilling to finally receive recognition for a body of work which had gone unnoticed for so many years. If these works had not been received with their anticipated hopes for them, and had they not believed in their own work when they produced it back then, or realized any reward for it in the years prior to its retrospective exposure, then what in the fuck is my question?

Let's say that an artist has found a certain level in his/her work which leads them to the wanting a broader viewing audience for their output. Where do they start? Which gallery should they approach? Who are the dealers that could best represent their work? Who should advise them on the right course to take in their careers? Can they really handle a career as an artist when the facts are such that so few of them will ever get to a level where their work will be celebrated within their own lifetimes, or that they'll be able to share the relative longevity of a career as old as themselves? Who will become their supporters and will want to buy their work? Money becomes validation for an artist; as well, it brings the freedom to make more art. Or hopefully, at least money they realize will help to feed them and/or their families while they're making more art. So seldom do artists have the luxury of being able to complete their inspired works and be paid well enough for them that they aren't required to keep other jobs to supplement their incomes. Everyone would love to toil over things that don't really feel like work, after they've spent all that mental and/or physical energy in producing them. A labor of love, so to speak. But in reality, most artists must content themselves with using the urge to express their ideas in making art which has aptly, if not brilliantly shown their inspiration, and thus given them meaningful lives.

OK. It feels great to make art. It's good to stand back after completing a work and examine its strengths or perhaps in frustration its should-have-beens. Deciding to accept a work that one has created, and having enough belief in its being able to stand up to a gauntlet of never-to-be-seen works is an even truer reality check for an artist than is the act of making it. The Ugly comes to the front when a artist faces the kind of rejection that, say, an actor faces after a failed audition. But there is never really 'failure' when artists maintain their validation by producing their work, and not in how pissed off they're liable to become when they're treated with indifference by dealers or gallerists. But there's a lot of artists and they all want representation when reaching for the rewards of their efforts. Many artists believe the galleries which represented them at the beginning of their careers were just fucking around with their percentages and that they didn't get enough at the start and so on and so forth. The infinite imbalance will continue, and most artists will have their horror stories to tell about the directions their work has taken, but time will prove the strength of their convictions by staying the course, unless, of course, they can wash dishes or collect garbage and want to give up their creativity quests.

Posted March 28, 2008

© Paul Ruscha, 2007, 2008

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