Tag: Giorgio Vasari

Fame vs success vs being ‘cool af’ in the arts

We all know the story of Vincent van Gogh – the troubled but beloved genius who apparently only sold one painting (officially) in his lifetime and we (cool people who read art blogs like mine) draw inspiration from this. The term ‘starving artist’ is probably derived from his story, history books are unapologetic at how weird he was and yet you and I know he was cool and our hearts have compassion for him.

Vincent Van Gogh -The-Red-Vineyard
Vincent Van Gogh -The-Red-Vineyard -1888- the only painting he sold in his lifetime!

Vincent didn’t need a rock star level success to feel like he was doing good work but he did need positive feedback from his peers. This is of course why he took it so badly when Paul Gauguin didn’t turn out to be his best friend and champion after he was invited to live with Vincent in Arles.  Gauguin was probably just bored and frustrated with Vincent’s eccentricities which caused his sharp tongue to say things he wouldn’t have said if he wasn’t in a de facto domestic partnership with the poor guy.

Vincent didn’t hide his work away from the world and when he was given opportunities to display his works he took them – such as the the seventh exhibition of Les Vingt (The Twenty) that was held in Brussels from 18 January to 23 February 1890. The Twenty were the next generation of artists after the Salon des Refusés first held in 1863.

You could say, in terms of rock music, the original ‘rejected’ artists like Edouard Manet and James Whistler did what the Beatles and Rolling Stones did for popular music (exactly) 100 years later – they opened the doors to a whole new wave of artists – look at what changed in terms of what was acceptable on the radio from 1963 (when the Beatles got started) to 1990 – that’s the year Dave Grohl joined Nirvana.

Vincent wasn’t a lone freak with no one who understood his scene – he was just a cool kid in the cool kids club right before everyone wanted to be a cool kid.

Mr Bean accidentally destroys the painting called Arrangement in Grey and Black- Portrait of the Artist's Mother painted in 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Mr Bean accidentally destroys the painting called Arrangement in Grey and Black- Portrait of the Artist’s Mother painted in 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

The cool people you know from history were basically famous or infamous depending on where you sit and as you get deeper into the genre of your preference you find others who were equally cool but not so famous – for example most people who have heard of Michelangelo (the Italian Renaissance artist) haven’t heard of Giorgio Vasari but he was cool af (if you don’t know what the af means just ignore it)!

quote-as-long-as-art-lives-never-shall-i-accept-that-men-are-truly-dead-giorgio-vasari-136-73-98

Nowadays fame is meaningless – you can be famous for just about anything, it does not mean you did anything cool – and as for mingling with famous artists – yukk who wants to be so famous that the likes of Tony Podesta would collect your art – let me die before my peers are that ‘spirit cooking’ crowd!

Tony Podesta art collection Google search
Tony Podesta art collection Google search

Success? How do you measure it and where does that lead to? I’ve seen great local artists who scramble to fill wall space with sub par hurried work when they are given a gallery show – maybe they got a couple hundred more dollars with all that hard work but is that success? With that attitude at what point do you measure the money vs the amount of time you put into it and decide to get a ‘real job’?

Success can only ever be measured by how you felt about your work after it was done – it’s a bonus if someone else likes it. I wrote the following as a you tube comment for my favorite punk rock band Mean Jeans (hell, maybe they don’t consider themselves punk but it’s punk from my old school view point). The song is here (it’s their unsolicited unpaid jingle for Polly-O string cheese).

I know that most people don’t get it and that’s cool – most people aren’t punk rock in how they think – they are just punk flavored if anything. One thing is certain – the Mean Jeans pay attention – they listen and they not only get the hilariousness of copying a stereotypical sound or phrase but they can replicate it and even make it better. Would Mean Jeans exist without the Ramones and Screeching Weasel? maybe but I doubt what they made would hit the spot like this for me. Luckily the world is so saturated with media that the Jeans can’t possibly be as big as Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson but fame just ruins any good band anyway – it’s inevitable and as certain as death – but there’s a sweet spot where a band can do no wrong because they get it for what it is and they can see themselves in that moment and they can appreciate it. Since no one but perhaps the Jeans themselves will read this, guys it’s ok to have this amazing resume to show that you can do anything musically – when you want to do something different you’ll be successful in that too – you can milk it till it’s dry or flip to being something else entirely but your legacy as musical geniuses will endure as long as we have a means to playback these great first albums!!

Will today’s free spirited and fun loving Mean Jeans be tomorrows suit encrusted ad men or money grubbing record producers – maybe, but I suspect they won’t be playing the same stuff tomorrow as they are playing today – they are too creative!

You can be famous, you can be successful but it’s something else that makes you cool as fuck. I know that the term ‘cool’ has been around since at least the beatnik era – maybe it goes back before then (jazz era I suspect) but being cool is why we had a Grateful Dead and not some unknown blue grass cover band instead.

I don’t subscribe to the misery of religious evangelicals or crusty vegans who boycott everything except free range lentils due to the perceived evilness of everything fun (and believe me I tried to go there at one point in my life but it made me so uncool for a second that I hated myself) so I recommend you watch the Grateful Dead documentary on Amazon Prime called Long Strange Trip. Yes, I know Amazon is probably an evil company causing destruction and zombie apocalypses all day long but it does show that Jerry Garcia was cool as fuck because he just wanted to play and make people happy and when you are cool miracles can happen and the world is a better place.

Motto

I play it cool
I dig all jive.
That’s the reason
I stay alive.
My motto
As I live and learn,

is:
Dig And Be Dug

In Return.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
New York : A. A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1994
Edition:1st ed

 

Be cool and you’ll reap rewards far deeper than mere fame or success!

Let’s face it, you can’t have a cool kids club without the existence of not so cool kids – it’s all part of the ying yang – aren’t you lucky that you are in the cool kids club even if you aren’t famous or wealthy etc yet? You can’t buy cool as Mojo Nixon said!

My non-famous but genius friend Biff Brown wrote the following song for me because I am cool and so is he! 

My non-famous but genius friend Dave Moses wrote the following song – Nashville Fauxgrass. Just think, there are billions of people who will never enjoy this gem – too bad! 

And the following video is for all of us cool kids!

The following songs are cool as fuck in my opinion – go listen to the music you like now!

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Michelangelo vs. Leonardo : great artist or genius who made some great art?

Inspire graphiti art by Daz Lartist
Inspire graphiti art by Daz Lartist

If you study art history then you’ll know that during the Italian Renaissance there were hundreds of artists that could sculpt and paint on par with Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (both still so famous that we can just use their first names).

There was a lot of marble, charcoal and fresco plaster dust in the daily life of an artist back then, not to mention the fact you had to make your own paints! Only the rich could even consider fine art as a hobby and much like today still, parents preferred that that children find a better career than ‘artist’.

Leonardo, or as Michelangelo called him ‘that lute player from Milan’, was apparently a dandy (a man unduly devoted to style, neatness, and fashion in dress and appearance). Leonardo was a genius for hire rather than ‘an artist’. He used his genius level art skills to make fine art but it wasn’t who he was.

They called Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Il Terrible”. He was young, twenty-six, brilliant and arrogant, so arrogant that he didn’t sign his works1; he thought that people would know the creator, by looking. Just the man to attack a large marble commonly referred to as “Il Gigante”, lying in a churchyard. Agostino di Duccio had attempted to carve a David out of the stone thirty-five years prior. “Il Gigante” intimidated every sculptor there after. – Marjorie Masel

Being an artist in the way we think of it today was quite different 600 years ago. Back then it was more like being a contractor, a professional who constructed things and who was respected for doing a competent job – but rarely with the possibility of  becoming a celebrity. It took Michelangelo’s dedication to change this perception; to translate his passion for the craft into what we now consider fine art.

Because we as a society  respect fine art it has allowed me to paint on walls that I didn’t own and to be appreciated for what I love to do rather than to get in trouble for it. When I have been exhausted and paint splattered from a day of mural painting I often think of Michelangelo and say “thanks man”!

Giorgio Vasari, former student of Michelangelo (and his biggest fan), was a competent Renaissance Man in the complete definition of the word. His love of and dedication to the artistic lifestyle lead him to literally be the father of art history. He immortalized himself when he wrote his Lives of the most excellent artists biographies. The artistic lifestyle is one that has been romanticised ever since the time of Michelangelo and thank you Mr. Vasari for starting that meme!

There was a time when Leonardo could have inspired his people as much as Michelangelo did in a artistic sense, but, as Vasari said (I paraphrase), Leonardo didn’t like to get dirty, and doing art on a grand scale requires one to get filthy!

Haha makes me think of the movie Paint Your Wagon and that song “the best things in life are dirty“, hell, Michelangelo washed his feet less than Sid Vicious! (yes I know all we have is Vasari’s account of how Michelangelo slept with his boots on and movie quotes from Sid and Nancy to back up that last statement!).

I think Leonardo could have done so much more, to inspire everyone than he did back in the day. Remember that while generations of people thrilled to the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David et al, Leonardo’s sketchbooks were not publicly available until relatively recently.  The Mona Lisa is a little overrated in terms of painting in my opinion.

I have a beef with Leonardo because he drew the greatest Renaissance sketch ever, The Battle of Anghiari and then never attempted anything as spectacular again!

Peter Paul Ruben's copy of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari
Peter Paul Ruben’s copy of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari

Leonardo saw art mostly as a job or at best a tool, but Michelangelo did art to glorify God and to inspire people. Michelangelo showed what was possible, even by someone who considered themselves tragically flawed.

The artist doesn’t need to look presentable but the art does! This of course is something we saw happen in music when the Beatles opened the doors for the counterculture. The anecdote about John Lennon on stage in Hamburg with a toilet seat around his neck is just a funny reminder that human beings are multi-faceted. You can be a genius and an idiot at the same time and that is perfectly acceptable!

Perhaps the following quote is closer to the point I want to make.

By the time he moved from the Borinage to Brussels, in the fall of 1880, van Gogh was committed to being an artist—a commitment he would never break. –  Nellie Hermann

As you know, prior to being the artist we know him for, Vincent Willem van Gogh was a preacher. The scene where (Kirk Douglas playing Vincent) sees the children in the Borinage coal mine in the awesome 1956 movie Lust for Life is powerful. You can see that clip via this link to youtube. In the long run it was the coal miners themselves that saved their children from the barbarism of that time of course. Vincent, after deciding to just be himself instead of trying to be something that society/culture offered, gave us one of the greatest inspirational stories in the art world.

Almost a century later a group of young men around the same age that Vincent was when he decided to be a real artist, (the same age Michelangelo was half a millennia before that when he sculpted his David), were on tour, the final Black Flag tour. The excellent documentary REALITY ’86’D filmed by David Markey might not be your cup of tea but it shows that passion for the artistic lifestyle can make a lasting impression in art regardless of commercial success in it’s time. 

You can look to the results of what people dedicated to being full time original artists, like Vincent van Gogh and like Greg Ginn (founder of and guitarist for Black Flag) did as your inspiration if you want to reach your full potential (like I did). You may have to load your own equipment and may ultimately die as an unknown weirdo but if you want to be a great artist you have to be all in. You might even accomplish something as great as what Michelangelo did if you are dedicated to being a great artist!

I too decided to become a ‘great artist’ in my mid 20’s, I literally proclaimed this improbable statement and meant it! It has been quite a journey avoiding the ‘sensible’ career path and was the right choice. Ultimately if you don’t want to be a ‘great artist’ you can still make great art (like Leonardo did) but your story won’t be as romantically inspirational! As Jim Morrison said (I paraprase) did you have a good enough life to base a movie on? Vincent and Michelangelo did  and Greg is still kicking ass today!

A still from the movie REALITY '86'D showing Greg Ginn rocking out on Main ST. USA is most excellent!
A still from the punkumentary movie REALITY ’86’D of my favorite scene. Greg Ginn is rocking out on Main St. USA making art that no one has done before, knowing it is good and not caring if no one else gets it. Pure inspirational genius.