A Portrait of the Artist in post-modern times

The artist has always been a projection screen for society and especially the bourgeosie. From the 19th century on until the late fifties of the twentieth century, the image of the artist almost exclusively is burdened on them from the outside in a double perspective: the fascination of the „other“, the life not corresponding with social standards and rules (beside of the law), for instance the artist in his studio with a naked model, an outrage in victorian times for all other settings, and the fear of bourgeoisie of their (conscious or subconscious) wanting and longing for being „free“ in a supposedly borderless fashion. In this respect the image of the artist directly corresponds to that of the femme fatale, used by painters and writers since the end of the 19th century to visualize the ambiguity of the social rules and the suppression of passion. This image (as well as that of the femme fatale) is rather blurry and only tells us about the bourgeoisie – that is, although opposed by a large number of avantgarde movements from impressionism to fluxus, at the same time the source of sustaining money and time for artistic work. The wide stomach of the bourgeoisie, one could say, is always able to digest and incorporate critical visualisations and ironicalisations, even attacks, into its very own.

photo by alexander czekalla

The image of the artist as described is until now existing in a wide range of people, but began to change in the late 20th century. The artist is nowadays becoming more and more the „hero“ of post-modernity, as well in lifestyle as in economic terms. In a world, where everything one can possibly need already exists in a wide variety of specimen, the only inventions that are possible to make to sustain economic growths are either electronical or creative (and oftenly a mixture of both). The idea is taking the place of the product and the tip of the movement, e.g. the artist, embedded in a narrative of success (and an exploding market for contemporary art) becomes a crucial figure. The artist is also the perfect model for the true capitalist: creating wealth (if successfull) out of the „nothing“ and being a one person machine, inventing, self-marketing and salesman of itself in one.

Although this narrative is obstructed on the figure of the artist from the outside, it is as crucial of their reality, because the artist is necessarily a person in the „now“. As the old double view as „mirror“ of society, they now pass on into its very centre and economical heart, whilst being themselves exposed to a doubled view of themselves in an introspective way: as the tip point of society and post-modern „hero“, embedded into a growing international dialogue in which it is crucial to play a role, whilst struggeling at the same time with a precarious economical situation. About 80 percent of the artists are not able to sustain themselves by their artistic production, so everyone besides those few who are „successfull“ in economic terms or can rely on inheritances of any kind, have to face the ambiguity of the need to participate in international structures on the one hand and to sustain themselves, their studios and homes, with a paid job at the bar down the street (to draw a picture of an oftenly true cliché here). Because they are the inventors of new visual approaches, lifestyles and\or content, they are oftenly left out in the chain of commercialisation that usually begins one or two years after the „avant-garde“ of artists create them. The money is usually made by third parties, oftenly called the „creative industries“, whose work are to be considered more into the direction of craftmanship than invention, usually taking on styles and approaches already existing.

While the image of the artist in public has dramatically changed from the „outlawed“ and at the same time admired as feared individual, to the „hero“ of a new social narrative that has its impact on economic value creation, the general situation of the artits life is being the same – precarious. This figure is the poor hero of post-modernism, driving innovations and having at the same times multiple jobs beside of the artistic production. The Hiatus or gap between reality and shared narrative that is almost comical in its wideness…


Über philippkoch

author and curator, specializing in literature and writing on visual arts
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