Monday, March 14, 2011

Remember When Artists Were All The Rage?

     I met a man, Bojangles, and he danced a jig.

     Ok, that's not true. But I'm going to call him Mr. Bojangles because I met him in the line at Bojangles.

     Mr. Bojangles leans over my shoulder from behind me, invading my personal space and oblivious to it. "What you readin'?"
     I flipped my copy of the Smithsonian closed and showed him the cover, at first not looking back at him. Then, I recovered my manners and felt my annoyance fade. Hey, this guy could be the worlds most dedicated art collector. Or, a talent agent. Or, possibly Gary Sheffield. Instead, I turned to face a tall balding man wearing slacks and an over-sized polo shirt. He looked like a 130lb man who had borrowed his 300lb brother's clothing. Even his pants, pleated (sorry, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), were too large and cinched around his waist by a belt that, as it turned out, did seem to be the right size for him.
     I gave him my I'm-an-amicable-friend-to-all smile. "The Smithsonian has a article on Gauguin," I said. He frowned, looked closer at the cover of the magazine. He seemed to be focusing on the three zebras on the cover. Maybe he thought they would give him some clues as to what to say next. They must have.
     "You an artist?"
     "I am." I smiled bigger, proud of my line of work.
     "What else do you do?" Mr. Bojangles smiled too. A smile that was obviously his I'm-being-an-asshole-but-I'll-smile-so-you-don't-take-offense smile.
     "Why? Have you seen my movies?"
     He looked at the zebras again.
     "Just kidding," I said. I turned away, only one person away from the counter.
     "I could never do that," Mr. Bojangles said under his breath.

     This got me thinking. Why couldn't he do it? Why WOULDN'T he do it? Artists used to be envied. The Smithsonian article talked about the people that Gauguin hung out with. Bankers and lawyers, people who were in respected professions, who were jealous of Guaguin because they wanted to be artists themselves.
     Artists used to live a wonderful lifestyle. They were even celebrities, like Warhol, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha and Gauguin himself.
     There is a lot on the horizon for my art career. Classes are coming up soon, my trip to the Portrait Society of America (thanks to the Durham Arts Council), and an art show that opens this Friday, March 18 at Foster's Market. In all of these things there should be a feeling of excitement for all involved. I am not an artist because I couldn't do anything else. I'm not an artist because I'm a lazy lay-about. I'm an artist because being an artist is a glorious profession, one where I can change the attitudes and points of view of people, where I can affect the emotions of the masses (hopefully for the better), where I can offer another side to a story people thought they already knew, to motivate and inspire.
     Full-time artists, part-timers, Sunday painters, textbook doodlers, you should all hold your heads up high. Do not let this new society screw with your self esteem. Sure, schools are killing the art and music departments by the drove, as if science is the only thing that matters. But they are WRONG. Just because it can't be graded doesn't mean it has no value.
     Mr. Bojangles, go break out your colored pencils and sketch pads. Join us.

     We are artists.
     It is time, once again, that we were all proud of it.