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What If They Weren’t Artists


Artists are so much more than their art. The old stereotype of the “struggling artist” endures because it accurately describes the struggle for recognition and respect of one’s own art. Every artist started somewhere, and it wasn’t the sprawling countryside of France or the gritty lofts of Greenwich Village.


Without doing a deep biographical dive into certain artist’s past, I recently wondered about possible career paths for some artist if they, in fact, never became the artists they are. What if they weren’t critically acclaimed and documented in history books. What if no one made a movie about their lives or wrote a book about their rise to cultural notoriety. What if their art wasn’t so widely recognized, and on calendars, coffee mugs and tee shirts?


The simple fact is we are more than the one thing we aspire to be. Life is a long journey and it takes many twists and turns on the way to arriving at the individual we always wanted to be, whether we’re recognized by the masses or not.


So, this is fictious look at some famous artist and what if they had other jobs instead.


S, 1959

By John Chamberlin

Sculpture


Jackpot, 1962

By John Chamberlin


Piquanthearing, 2010

By John Chamberlin

Sculpture


John Chamberlin is a sculptor who primarily uses metal, twisted metal, to form beautiful pieces. He created several bodies of work using compressed automobiles. He’d then further shape and paint those mangled pieces of cars into art, transforming things that belong in a junkyard to prized pieces in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world. So, in another life, I could see Chamberlin having his own auto body collision and repair garage.



Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1942

By Piet Mondrian

Oil on canvas



Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1943

By Piet Mondrian

Oil on canvas


I could imagine Piet Mondrian as a city planner. His paintings of precise grids and primary colors are themselves map-like in nature. As other abstract expressionist we’re flinging paint and deconstructing forms in Greenwich Village, Mondrian calculated his expression into exact linear compositions, like a map. His studio was a few blocks from Central Park, yet with all that beauty, Mondrian despised the color green.


One of my personal favorites is an artist from the CoBrA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam} movement, is Karel Appel. His colorful and childlike art would make him a perfect Kindergarten teacher. He would encourage kids to let out all the feelings and emotions for the world to see. Think of all those drawings you’ve seen on refrigerators when your child was just staring school, and how proud they were to show you what they made on school that day.


Questioning Children, 1949

By Karel Appel

Gouache, wood


Cloud: Clouds and People,1984

By Karel Appel

Oil on canvas


Do you need tidy up that clutter in your closet? Is it an uncontrollable mess of shoes, sweaters and hats? I’ve got the perfect closet organizer for you; her name is Louise Nevelson.


Full Moon, 1980

By Louise Nevelson

Sculpture


Sky Jag IV, 1974

By Louise Nevelson

Sculpture



Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden, 1866

By Claude Monet

Oil on canvas

A Corner of the Garden at Montgeron, 1877

By Claude Monet

Oil on canvas


We can all apricate a well-manicured yard and beautiful gardens, especially if you’re an artist. It wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to think that Claude Monet as the perfect landscaper. His paintings of his own personal gardens with many ponds and waterlilies, flowing country sides and fruit orchards are some of the most exquisite landscape paintings ever painted. And, when he wasn’t in his studio, Monet did in fact spend countless hours working in his many gardens, taking great care of his irises and dozens of other varieties of flowers and shrubs.


Ah, then there’s Van Gogh. Now, he could have gone in a couple of directions. His extensive theological studies could have put in as clergy in a church. However, he wasn’t the Pius type. He loved to hang out with all the common folk in the local watering holes. He’s also famous for his eloquently written letters to his brother Theo. I don’t ever see separating him completely from painting, but someone who truly valued the written message, I could see Vincent as a postman. He would be in a little Dutch tavern with his buddy and coworker Joseph Roulin tossing em’ back and trying to pick up chicks. Think if Van Gogh had a stable income, what kind of paintings would he make? Think if he only painted after a long day as a mail carrier or on weekends. Think about how his income could fund holidays in all the places he wanted to go. Could you imagine if Van Gogh had the money to go with his pal Paul Gaugin to Tahiti? Think about those starry nights!


Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin,1889

By Vincent Van Gogh

Oil on canvas


Joseph Roulin, 1888

By Vincent Van Gogh

Oil on canvas


Then there’s Frida. She seems to be a regular reference in my blog. Without a doubt Frida Kahlo would be a crisis/grief counselor. From the horrific bus crash she was in when she was a young woman, when a pole literally impaled her through her pelvis leaving her unable to have children to the dysfunctional marriage to Diego Rivera and his may torrid affairs. She is uniquely qualified to guide individuals in how to channel their despair into something beautiful. She knows, as so do I, art heals.


A Few Small Nips (Passionately in Love), 1935

By Frida Kahlo

Oil on metal


Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed), 1932

By Frida Kahlo

Oil on metal


Art is a tool of activism and has been through history, documenting wars and civil unrest. It speaks to cultural phenomena and social movements. In 2022, one of the most gripping issues is climate change. We’ve reached critical mass because of our collective dependency on fossil fuels and our gluttonous consumer habits. Alex Rockman is someone who would speak for the earth. I could easily see him chasing down whaling ships on a Greenpeace boat or demonstrating against logging in any rainforest.


Spheres of Influence, 2016

By Alex Rockman

Oil and alkyd on wood panel


Gowanus, 2013

By Alex Rockman

Oil on wood


While on the topic of the great outdoors, another artist’s relationship with nature that is something more of poetry than social discord, is Andy Goldsworthy. I can see Andy as a park ranger in a national park somewhere. He would stop and do impromptu instillations while looking for lost hikers and picking up trash.


Fall Leaves, 1995

By Andy Goldsworthy

Arraigned leaves


Untitled, 2018

By Andy Goldsworthy

Arraigned feathers



Snow Circles, 1987

By Andy Goldsworthy

Snow

One of my favorite artists and a big influence of my art is Red Grooms. His clumsy and quirky style of art incorporates humor in his work. Early on in my artistic journey I learned from Grooms that humor was ok in serious art, not everything has to be so heavy and laden with symbolism. I could totally see Red as a stand-up comic. He could have been on the cast of Saturday Night Live, or had guest appearances on Seinfeld, which would have been perfect. Whatever the case, Groom’s New York centric brand of tongue and cheek would have played well to comedian underground. I could see Red Grooms getting his own HBO special entitled Ruckus Manhattan, (actually his most famous body of paintings and sculpture).


Sunday Funnies, 1985

By Red Grooms

Mixed media

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1989

By Red Grooms

Mixed media


Let’s finish with Andy Warhol, obviously one of the most recognizable names in Pop Art. Because of its very nature, Pop Art was to take common themes and elevate them to high art. Pulling references from music and television and everything else accessible, then transforming those images into the raves of critics.

So, I wouldn’t be stretch to imagine Warhol as a social media influencer. You know, those people that are famous for being famous. Now, with all due respect to Andy, his value as an artist is greatly more valued than the ditzy numb nuts trying to go viral on social medial by putting on mascara.


Dollar Sign, 1981

By Andy Warhol

Print


After Marilyn Pink, 1967

By Andy Warhol

Print


Artists are more than artists, obviously. Our lives are a collection of people and experiences that shapes and inform our art. Before any famous artist was just that, they were something far less interesting. Keep that in mind when you order your next soy latte from Starbucks, or the kid with a funny haircut is cashing you out at the grocery store. You never know if you just had a brush with greatness.


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