Philip Koch, Blue Mountain II, oil on panel, 14 x 21", 2011
I received several comments from artists who had read my response to a question Joanne Mattera had asked on her blog this week. The topic was whether artists felt like "giving up." Here's what I had said-
I've been painting actively since the late '60's. Over that time I have watched many talented and hard working artists become discouraged and gradually withdraw from actively making and showing their work. The world is a less interesting place without the artworks many of them would have created.
Over time I've come to value survival itself as a talent that is right up there along with having a genuine vision and a sharp eye.
And I have more respect than ever for any artist who is able to keep the little fire of their enthusiasm alive and keep working at their art over decades of time. Some of then are unsung, some of them don't always produce the very best work, but still to me they are quiet heroes.
Some years ago I was informally talking with the husband of one of my art dealers. Her gallery showed mostly work on paper by well known artists. He was a professor of economics and only observed his wife's gallery from a distance. We were meeting for the first time and he expressed surprise at how young I was. At the time I was closing in on forty so I was surprised at his comment. He explained the artists they saw at the gallery were either "really old" well established artists who were having their work exhibited, or as he said "kids" just out of art school trying to get his wife to consider showing their artwork. "There are no middle aged artists" he joked.
Often I've written about the Muse, the mythological figure who guides artists with her magical insights to do their best work. While I don't literally believe in her, there are often moments in the studio when I am able to paint better than I know how. In ways that I are impossible to fully grasp, I somehow access some deeper part of myself and do my most exceptional work. Being visited by The Muse is as good an explanation as any. Artists have been dreaming of her for centuries.
But if there's a myth to explain how artists achieve insights and breakthroughs, what about all the artists I've known who became discouraged and quit making art? It seemed to me only fair that we have a cosmology to explain that too. I found myself fantasizing about the other side of the creative coin. Flip it over and on the other side you'll find The Art Devil. (He probably tip toed into my imagination as a boy when someone read me the story about the evil Troll who lived under the bridge)
I can see him more clearly now- he's forty feet tall and carries a sledgehammer that he clumsily swings at any artist he can find. He's relentless- you'll find him outside the gallery of any artist whose solo show didn't sell or waiting at the cash register as the young artist tries to pay for that tube of cadmium yellow paint she needs. Fortunately his aim isn't that sharp and if you keep your eyes open you can dodge his blows if you're quick. What I can't figure out is why none of my art professors warned me about this shady figure. He's out there, and the legions of ex-artists testify to the weight of his iron hammer.