When asked why I wear only one earring instead of the full pair, or why I wear weird loose pants, my answer is always “to promote the image of a weird artist”. People laugh, but unfortunately it seems that being weird comes, or must come, with being an artist.
And by weird I mean weird. There is eccentric, which is cool, admirable even. It’s mysterious, it’s compelling, it’s attractive.
And then there is weird.
Where I am from, just by hanging out with some local artists, I could not fail to notice something they all shared: Dreadlocks.
It’s the “in” thing in Mozambique. If you are an artist, then you have long, heavy dreadlocks, regardless of gender. I, too, have contemplated the idea of getting dreadlocks at some stage. The only reason I haven’t is because I strive to not be mistaken by a drug consumer.
This doesn’t happen only in Mozambique. Out of all the places I have been, all the pictures I have seen and all the films I have watched, it seems that the distinction between an artist and others is not solely the work of art, but in fact the most visible distinction is the physical appearance. It’s normal to associate artists with laziness and lack of care when it comes to being “presentable” and “decent” when in public. Artists are more likely to wear torn jeans and walk barefoot, all this to fight the strong current of what is mainstream.
I remember someone telling me that I try so hard “not to be mainstream”, through pursuing this non-conformist ideal I actually end up, unconsciously, conforming to what is expected of an artist.
So my question is, why is it that artists adopt this “weird” look to them? Is their work of art not sufficient? Normatively speaking, the art piece should speak for itself. Since the art piece is barely understood, it becomes quickly dismissed, and so this weirdness surrounding artists make up for it.
Some ideas I have read on this suggest that, using Warhol as an example, the artists knows that his work is extremely vulnerable and always subject to (mis)judgement. Thus, overemphasized eccentricity is used as the justification of whatever the outcome of the piece may be. This could mean that the focus is shifted from the artwork itself to the persona of the artists.
Does this, then, mean that Pollock, Warhol, Basquiat and many others are only renowned artists due to their weirdly compelling personas? Would their art be as relevant and valued had they been “normal”, “ordinary” people?
I once read somewhere that “Art is anything you can get away with”, perhaps in this brave new world this is true indeed. Seems like people are more interested in the Artist rather than the Art itself. Not sure if this is a good thing.