They are all considered artistic geniuses in their respective fields. And all three died in poverty.
Why, indeed. All three produced art that would become well known and highly respected—watershed works. Edgar Allan Poe is known as the Grand Master of the Mystery genre, having penned what is considered the first mystery story in modern English literature. Charlie “Bird” Parker is known for his innovate sax style, creating a jazz genre known as Be Bop. Vincent Van Gogh blazed a unique trail with his bold colors, emotional depth and raw beauty—now iconic.
Today, their creations are not only economically viable, but potentially worth millions. Yet during their lifetimes they were largely unappreciated; and if recognized at all, considered tortured eccentrics destined for obscurity.
Ironic, isn’t it? Three more tales of woe that would, on the surface, confirm the “starving artist” premise.
Starving Artists – The Myth
Does it truly take more than a lifetime to gain recognition for outstanding works of art? Many would have us believe it. And it would be tragic, if it were so. But the whole “tortured genius” mantle of nobility—to slave away in a life of depravation and obscurity, sacrificing one’s self for one’s art—is pure bunk. Largely, an excuse for failure, whether in art or in life.
And when it comes to failure, there is no shortage of excuses. We’ve heard them all: They were drunkards, or drug addicts; they were mentally ill—obsessed with their art; and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
Trust me, there is nothing heroic about sacrificing one’s self for one’s art. Starving, intoxication and all the accompanying mental derangement does NOT make for better art. In fact, it severely limits one’s vision, expressiveness and aesthetic abilities.
How could such talent fail so utterly?
No doubt they had their issues, but those issues were largely symptomatic of the losses they suffered. After all, they were pioneers.
Pioneers Get the Arrows, Settlers Reap the Rewards
They were the cutting edge of their art and craft, making up the rules as they went, learning the hard way, by trial and error, paying dearly for those errors—too dearly. These men forsook social acceptance and material comforts to create new realms of aesthetic experience—magical, beautiful, groundbreaking—flying in the face of convention. Whether by chance or design, only they could say.
In a world where starvation, war and cruelty are daily realities, art can appear to be a luxury, at best. And at its worst, frivolous. We’ve all heard it. “You can’t make a living at it.” “You’ll starve.” And yet it’s our artists that dream society’s dreams, create the culture and blaze a trail into the future.
The Art of Living
What these men displayed in creative genius, they lacked (or simply ignored) in practical skills for day-to-day living. Had they been schooled early-on in the basics of business management, they likely would have enjoyed the fame and fortune they deserved. How they lived their lives should serve as a cautionary tale and duly noted by all professional and would-be artists.
(Warning. Here comes Business Management 101 – Promote.) Yes, it’s true, I write mystery stories and I’m not starving. Still, I think you’ll find my work worthy. More on my murder mystery books can be found at https://michaelallanscott.com
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