This blog is inspired by Jamie Iredell's telling my wife that maybe I would come by and see his new baby as soon as I "was finished being a rockstar" and also by watching the new Woody Allen movie involving one of my favorite artists, Salvador Dali.
Magritte worked in an advertising agency with his brother, coming home at night to paint in a carefully sectioned-off space in his Belgian home. He was meticulous, and never made a mess, so Mrs. Magritte never complained about him. When the Germans invaded, he stayed in Brussels. The Germans made things pretty hot for a lot of experimental artists; there's no evidence they took any particular notice of Magritte.
For that matter, no one took much notice of Magritte until the 1960's when he finally came into his own as a popular artist. He died in 1967. He was 69.
That's one kind of artist. Bourgeois, doesn't make waves with the power structure, keeps his day job, careful to not to let cerulean blue get on the linoleum. Working steadily, carefully, and - if he's really, really lucky - getting recognized sometime before his death.
On the other end, we have Gauguin. (A character in Roth's "Goodbye Columbus" calls him "Mr. Go-Again," and that's how I always think of him.) Of course, he famously went to Tahiti - actually he went twice - where he had numerous liaisons with the native girls - and I do mean girls - fathered a mess of kids, and painted. But even before then, you could spot him as a misfit. He tried the middle-class route - marriage, job as a stockbroker, the whole nine yards - for eleven years before the whole thing fell apart. He was friends with Van Gogh, a fellow-painter and depressive. Gauguin went to Martinique to paint and worked on the Panama Canal for a couple of weeks before getting himself fired.
Soon after Gauguin's death, his work became very desirable, and now on rare occasions you can find one for sale at all, his painting goes for tens of millions.
That's the other kind of artist - bohemian, thumbing his nose at convention, a bad employee, bad marriage prospect, a trouble-maker from the get-go. If he works hard and is truly, truly lucky, he may be recognized sometime after his death.
So which are you, chuckles?
The dangerous route of flying in the face of convention, authority, and responsibility - or the arduous route of accepting the heavy mantle of all those things and still attempting to make art? No matter what, serious recognition is a long-shot; Gauguin and Magritte both got lucky. Most of us begin in obscurity and end there too. If we're sober and careful we may outlive our beatnik brethren by a decade, but in the end, we're all dead. Both paths are hard, it's a matter of choosing which form of difficulty you prefer.
Being a rockstar ain't in it.