The Happy Life of a Starving Artist
December 2, 2008
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A recap show called the Cosby Show: A Look Back, aired on the Biography channel last Friday. All of the original Cosby kids were present with the exception of my favorite: Denise, who was played by Lisa Bonet. As the program moved along there came a segment with Claire Huxtable ( Phylissa Rashad) who muse about where her children would’ve ended up in life. All the kids–even foolish Theo were granted happy predictions except for Denise who a was prophetsized to a miserable life in a trailer park.
I don’t think so.
Denise was an art chick and if she were to end up as the least successful of her siblings I still think she would be happy. I think she would’ve lived the life of an avant-garde artist in Soho. Denise may not be able to make rent every month, but I think she would’ve enjoyed a life of a photographer or sculptor and perhaps moved into working for non-profits after the feast or famine industry of art has ebbed.
Furthermore, what’s wrong with trailer parks?
I know of one extremely influential artist who is a treasured faculty member of two of the greatest film colleges in the world—and he lives quite happily in a trailer park. Rent is paid and he can spend the surplus on art supplies and tuck the rest in savings. Sounds great to me! Working for money and status alone often times means that the artist has little time to create art for arts sake. Working for other people eats at your soul and renders the artist a hack at a times. So living happily on humble means can equal a happier life for an artist.
The whole scenario reminded me of a great film that I have to buy called Basquiat
. It’s a bio-pic about a once homeless graphitti-conceptual artist who made it big in the art world for a short time. However, Basquiat, like Denise feared stagnation the art world represented once an artist is pigeon holed into a genre and forced to produce under impossible deadlines, so Basquiat returned to the streets despite his newfound fortune and died of a heroine overdose. However, he did have his demons which plagued his psyche and hurt the angels in his life.
In contrast to Basquiat sweet demeanor and talent, he was inconsiderate to the point of cruelty—especially to those who supported him the most. Claire Florlani’s character was a struggling artist herself who worked as a waitress. She took Basquiat in and gave him a home. Basquiat neglected the angel the instant he became famous. As I mentioned earlier, his behavior wasn’t intentional and he would often try to compensate for his mistakes, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Basquiat’s actions were self destructive and although the fate of Claire Florlani’s characters was not made clear by the end of the film, I surely hope she was smart enough to never let someone like Basquiat become such a dominant force in her life again. Not to write Basquiat off as a friend, but surely one should not marry a person like him. No matter how lovable he is. Flakes like him can remain just lovable from across the room and out of a girl’s cervix.
Warts and alll, Basquiat is a sympathetic character I can relate to . We shared a common love for and co-dependancy on mentors. Basquiat’s mentor was Andy Warhol. When Warhol died Basquiat never recovered. According the archetype of the heroe’s journey when a mentor dies the hero must toughen up an move on with his quest and succeed. but not all heroes are successful. Som like Basquiat and I fear, myself, self-destruct if we don’t find a replacement.
Basquiat could not find a replacement soon enough and sank deeper in to substance abuse as a means of escapism. I know how he feels. Without Mrs. Pannones, I have a restless nature that urges me to travel and find another artist community, which serves as my womb. I no longer care about my well being, but more for those who depend me and the prizes I’ve collected, most notably my ca,t Pita, and my library. So long as those two elements are safe, I can live happily as a an art bum in Berkeley and Golden Gate Park. Like Basquiat, I would still work, but I feel no need to give so much of my hard earned cash to a landlord. I live quite happily in my head, thank you very much.
Basquiat too had the world in his head to keep him going, but he could only access that world fully though herione. He would enter a liminal state between between fantasy and reality and see surfers in the small patches of blue sky in the negative space between skyscrapers. Most importantly, Basquiat could hear the most important story his first mentor, his mother
, told him there…
..Once upon a time there was a prince, who was locked in a tower by a villain. In the tower there was a small barred window. Desperate to get help, the prince rapped his crowned head against the bars to attract attention to his plight. The beautiful sound of the crown striking the bars traveled across the land for all to hear and appreciate. Sadly, the prince never got out of the tower, nevertheless, the people of the kingdom remembered the day of the beautiful sound and the memory filled their lives with joy.
This is the allegory of an artist. He may live a life of suffering but, what he leaves behind is an impression on the world. Hence assuring a kind of immortality. Van Gogh did, says the bard of the film. Despite leading a life of suffering and selling only one painting, Van Gogh left an incredilbel legacy. He was genius who was ignored in his lifetime much to the chagrin of society during his time. Therefore NO ONE wants to ignore another Van Gogh in their lifetime, so there is a great effort to nurture avant-garde conceptual artist in large metropolis like New York, Paris and other large art communities. The life of an artist is in a way, a life of public service. It is an important chronicle of the human condition over time, be it literature, music or visual art. It’s all art and very important and respected. No need to obsess over a stock portfolio and drive a fancy car when the world loves you that instant you doodle a quick idea on a napkin. Talent is an envied gift. Be happy without the beemer. Denise would’ve been just as successful as her siblings. Not as wealthy perhaps, but very, very happy and the envy of wage slaves like her siblings who crave escapism everywhere.