I considered writing a piece this week relating relationships and art to Valentine’s Day, but found myself struggling with it. This was not because I knew that papers and the Internet would already be dripping with pink and chocolate, nor because there’s any lack of artists who make love with their subject. Rather, I struggled because I find the art world so inherently macho.
That is not to say that artists themselves are necessarily macho: artists are dreamers and essentially romantic, aspirational people- to even call yourself one and place yourself near the canon of artists before you- is a lofty enterprise. An artist’s relationship to his or her ultimate realized self is often just as essential as it is to other people.
David Hockney imagining himself being drawn by Picasso, whom he never met.
Artist and Model, 1973-74. Etching, 22 5/8 x 17 1/4 in., Courtesy of the artist. ©David Hockney. All rights reserved. Courtesy of LACMA
It is also not macho because art prices are soaring and it is still so male-dominated. Even this Thursday the feminist group called “The Guerrilla Girls” called on its members to send a letter to BCAM demanding that the museum reconsider the curation of it’s predominantly white male collection.
No, I find being an artist in the art world macho for other reasons. There’s a required toughness to stick it out, get to work and put it “out there” — more exhibitions, more galleries, more museums — constantly pushing to get on the radar. And the most macho part of all is the need to reach thirty feet inside your own guts for content. Picture young medical students eating pastrami sandwiches around the cadaver they’re studying to show it doesn’t phase them.
Photographic Painting of Gerhard Richter’s daughter Betty
Certainly there are other spheres of the art world that are different. There are painters who paint flowers and sunsets on the weekends. But even within that sphere there are ardent realists who seek to recreate reality down to the molecule. This is especially prevalent in the water color world where first prize winners are often indistinguishable from the photograph it was copied from. Realism is very macho. When my artist friends and I swoon over one of Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings, we undoubtedly stalk and make the same noises as young men admiring a red muscle car.
Combine all this machismo with the feminine sensuality of working with paint and color, then the act of being an artist itself forms the ultimate couple.