The Artist as Superhero

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Artists are a different kind of human being. Composing creations out of thin air is the work of a magician; surviving whilst doing so is the work of a superhero.

I’m not talking flying, invisibility or super-strength; I’m talking survival.

There are two kinds of survival that are most relevant to an artist. The first is surviving a creative life. The second, and what is vital to achieving the first, is surviving the art world, with all its byzantine complexity, and negotiating the politics of its hierarchical structure.

Understanding the workings of the art world is an almost impossible task, particularly for a young graduate. If you’re anything like me, you will have heard the word ‘networking’ leave the mouths of your well-intentioned lecturers near a thousand times, and you’ll have some idea of the importance of social circles. When you think about it honestly though, it’s all a bit of a blur, something you’ll deal with later.

Since leaving University I have understood there are a few business tactics and political moves to be accommodated, leading me to believe that artists are beings specifically built for purpose and their purpose is to be an artist. If artists weren’t able to schmooze with curators, gallery-owners, theatre leaders or publishers in spite of rejections that can no longer be counted on two hands, then there would be no successful makers.

And ‘success’ and ‘maker’ are often one and the same. Whether or not someone reaches recognition through their work is irrelevant, because regardless of the kind of success that is measured in fame and fortune, they still remain an artist. Success for an artist is measured in terms of continuity in the face of the industry, of the economy, of supporting a child or a spouse, of anything that might threaten to make the goal impossible.

The art world demands the kind of perseverance that can only stem from genuine intent. More than fire-breathers or villain-fighters, artists were born as creators, their survival totally dependent on pursuing their practice.

Being an artist (be it a writer, film-maker, designer or painter) is not really a choice, but something that is within someone, part of what constitutes them as a whole; a state of Being. It is as necessary to a person’s survival as the way their heart pumps blood around their body, as much a part of a person’s character, as the way their hair curls in the rain. If this weren’t true of an artist, then quite simply, there would be no artists.

Whilst it is true that any individuals who are passionate about what they do, are likely to feel a drive that encourages them push their abilities (anyone who’s seen Educating Yorkshire will agree with me here), surviving the creative industry takes more than devotion. Combined in the mind and soul of an artist is self-preservation alongside self-promotion, perseverance, dignity, truth and belief that overpowers the sting of a closed door.

Surviving a creative life in order to live: that’s the superhero force of an artist.


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