Ahead of his/her time

What do you want to do when you grow up?

— I want to be famous.

Okay, but what will you be famous for?

— I dunno. Does it matter, really? I just want to be admired … and to live forever.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?!! Actually, the “fame bug” has bitten many of us. Some of us are impatient to “make it” in terms of being recognised or becoming “household names”, making 100% of our salaries from our art, music or writing, formidable wealth, coveted awards and prizes, accomplishments such as dozens of published books, digital music recordings, art exhibitions at famous galleries and museums, etc. — while we are still alive (and hopefully before we are forty-something); and others smugly console ourselves with thinking that we are “just ahead of our time”, and wait for the world to catch up to us (after all, being recognised as once “misunderstood and unappreciated geniuses” in the annals of history is no mere door prize).

But what are the effects of the desire to become famous on artists, and their work? On the way we see the world? Upon our personalities, our tolerances of humanity? And is anyone ever really “ahead of his/her time”? Does fame in our own lifetimes make us more exciting artists, or can it lead to laziness and loss of focus?

Jean Cocteau: “The reward of art is not fame or success but intoxication: that is why so many bad artists are unable to give it up.”

That quote is priceless. Is it not passionate intoxication with the art itself that spurs us on to new ways of thinking and expressing ourselves, and often in adversity, non-acceptance, poverty? And is it not more satisfying to create a new genre or style, than to compete with others in already prescribed ways of artistic expression and form? Perhaps, for some of us … but certainly not for all. Poverty, non-acceptance and adversity are not “romantic”, and they sometimes get in the way of our creative drive and intuition. That is a lonely route to travel; and although we may sincerely believe that we have genius “ahead of our time” we can never be certain that we will – in fact – be judged positively decades or centuries after death.

Therefore, I ignore the romanticism of the misunderstood and starving artist/poet, as well as contemporary trends in art and the “fame bug”. I prefer to listen to my critics, test out their wishes for my art and literature in private, throw out what I cannot use … and continue to explore. More than one “conservative/old school” critic has been advised to instead go write his/her own book or paint his/her own painting in just the way that they wish I would have done.

I have no “niche”, and I do not wish to be pigeon-holed or recognised as “this, that or the other” artistically (at least not before the history books have to struggle with categorising me — long after my death). I may expound philosophical rants from time to time, but just as my art and literature are not always necessarily direct reflections of my opinions, experiences or politics, they are a part of me on some level — if none other than individual consciousness vs. collective consciousness, and are thus subject to change, expand, decrease, deceive, provoke and even to bore with banality.

It is that freedom that I insist upon (albeit it oftentimes exists solely in my own mind) that awards me the possibility to think and create outside of the box, to be creative in sometimes different ways, to embrace the countless possibilities in Life and in Art, to take chances, to fall on my face artistically and learn better solutions and techniques in my next oeuvre, and to never give up on being creative — no matter how unknown or unsuccessful I may be in the eyes of fame-seekers and celebrity-idols, or persons who wish to impose their own visions of reality and the world upon my art.

Many years ago, an art customer of mine who had purchased several large paintings suddenly asked me when I thought I would become “famous”, so that the value of the investments would appreciate. I smiled and replied: “Perhaps in some years, perhaps never. In the meantime, it is best to buy art that you love and which enriches your surroundings and life.”

In 2006, the New York Times ran an excellent article entitled “The Fame Motive”

It provides much insight into the questions I am addressing.

Decades ago, I was at an afternoon concert at Carnegie Hall, which included a new piece by the then “newly eminent” composer Witold Lutoslawski on the program. There were many senior citizens in the audience (many were then the age that I am now). Shortly after the piece began almost one-third of the audience rose up and left the concert hall in protest. The music was just too much for them — too contemporary. It was – perhaps – ahead of its time. Or was it just out of sync with THEIR time?

Will I manage to keep up with new art in time? Or should I just make my own time?

— Adam Donaldson Powell



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