Economic Support of Art in America Today – David Smith

The artist has been told by almost everybody what art is, what the artist’s function is, most often by people who do not perceive, love or make art, but who nonetheless presume the right, because they are laymen, historians or critics or figure somewhere in the art fringe, to make definition. […]

According to certain self-appointed oracles, the artist should be the illustrator of church fable, the servant of religion. To others, the so-called socially conscious group, the artist should serve Marxist realism. Official art of any country is largely government advertising specializing in photo-gloria with no thought of the inherent values of art. Then there are those negative minds which insist that the concept of art was finished with Courbet or Monet or Cubism or Matisse. Finally there are those who make no bones about their hostility to art by telling us that the real art of our time is architecture or the machine.

None of these opinions is anything more than a side-tracking of the real issue, which is the identity of the artist.

The contemporary painter or sculptor sees his identity simply as the producer of the work of art, himself in direct relation to it without any intermediaries. His identity as an artist is concerned with his heritage – his by visual choice and filial position – and the entirely personal nature of what he produces, subject to no outside authority.

The truly creative substance in the work of art is the artist’s identity. How he comes about this is personal. It is internal, secret and slow-growing.

The artist develops his identity by self-confidence. [. . .]

* * *

Once identity is made it is stronger than all other authority. The artist is prepared to make his way alone. Aloneness is the condition of the artist’s creative life most of the time. The true artist projects into realms that have not been seen and can have only his identity for company. The adventure is alone, and the act of projection is itself actuality. It is himself and the work. He has left behind what was once the subject, as well as other problems of the past, while the people of distinction are still heavily involved in mass form, perspective, beauty, dimension, design, communication, chiaroscuro, social responsibility, and their own limitations of nature.

At maturity, confidence and identity merge. It is not necessarily the opinion of others that cause it. It is the development of the artist in his own mind, by the steps of realization in his works.

This identity must be pure and undivided. Identity can never be two things. It can serve only one master. If the artist is forced to teach or dig ditches for survival, he is the artist who labors temporarily. He does not yield his identity. He does not become the teacher or ditch digger who makes art. He must know that the work of art is the product of one identity created for the great cause of visual response.

Identity determines the artist’s finished work before ability. Ability is but one of the attributes and acts only as a degree of identity. Ability might produce a work, but identity makes the works before and the works after. [. . .] * * *

To hold this identity the artist must survey acutely the forces which act for and against him. He must select and reject.

He sees that the great public is beyond his hope. Like Pavlov’s dog, they are trained to look only when the bell rings. He needs the public on his terms. They have no need of him.

He knows that no artist lives from museums and that no artist creates art with the conclusions of philosophers and opinions of officials. The museum can compliment the artist’s identity if the relationship is one of mutual respect. The artist cannot ask for his recognition, nor will he accept being tolerated.

The artist’s only defense is to withdraw from those museums and agencies with whom he is at odds.

The museums and aestheticians will always find among the anxious and unidentified followers who gratefully accept their dogma and tradition, custom and charity. But a growing identity is within the forward movement which will not accept unless the hierarchy responds to the artist’s needs instead of determining them.

This position is not new. It is all in the artist’s filial heritage, but it is an identity beginning to form and to act.

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