Artists and Death

The end of life as a tool…

It’s a curios thought that the death of an artist may serve as a benefit to their creations. In terms of benefit, I am referring to the possible popularity or sales of the work. It’s a flower that blooms from the artist’s grave. However, I’m not saying this happens all the time. Too often do we witness an artist’s work gaining recognition only after they pass away. Most recently, this happened with Prince. Before him, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Amy Winehouse — just to name a few. The music they created hit the radio waves in floods after they died. That’s not to say that their songs weren’t played on the radio beforehand. After their deaths people point out how “genius” they were. I don’t know. Call me crazy but, I’m seeing that word used liberally when regarding the dead artists. I don’t think you have to be dead to be called a “genius.” AND you don’t have to pretend to like something only after it’s gone, ya phonies.

In writing, several artists found significant recognition after death. Here are a few: H.P. Lovecraft, John Keats, John Kennedy Toole, Anne Frank, Zora Neale Hurston, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, and Kate Chopin. There are scores more.

Perhaps death serves as the reason to give someone else’s work a second glance. Perhaps death is the greatest tool to some artists. Time is the only way of telling. Some creators would’ve rather had it that way, I’m sure. Going out while tipping their hats. It made them focus on their work. What if Gogh had sold more than one painting in his lifetime? The man painted over 900 pieces. Would he have been a “sell out?” Would his work have been as technically skillful had he garnered fame? I don’t know.

I know one thing for certain, though.

Artists should be totally fine with making no money off of their work.

Hear me out! I’m not saying it’s impossible to make money from your creations. Yes, it is wonderful to discover a lucrative career in the arts. And we see it all the time. What I’m saying is this: don’t get into the arts for the money. You’d be doing it for the wrong reasons.

Artists do because they love to do.

There lives an impulse within the creator to put pen to paper, to put brush to canvas, to put chisel to marble. We can’t help ourselves from doing so. And even if it’s bad work, by our standards, we keep going. We keep writing; we keep creating. That’s the important part. If discouragement comes from the lack of funds pouring into your bank account, that’s the sounding alarm.

Getting back to the reaper…

My satirical mind asks several questions.

“Is an artist worth more dead than alive?”

“Am I worth more dead than alive?”

“Should I just make a ton of shit and kill myself, leaving all items up for sale and all proceeds funneling back to my family?”

“Is it really not butter?”

Ah, asking the important questions now.

In all seriousness, the relationship between death and an artist can be discussed forever…one would say until you die. I mean, that’s why artists depict so much death in their work! There are thousands of fabulous noir pieces.

I’ve thought about death vs the artist a lot — the role of a creator when alive and so on. Here on Medium, you get your stats emailed to you every week. It’s a dark trap to fall into. Create because you love it, and no more. Create just for the sake of creation. Paint, even if you think you’re bad at it. Sing in the shower. Draw sketches on napkins. Dance in the dark. Do this all simply for the joy of it, looking at something and knowing that it’s all yours. Attention may come, and it may not. You might get a lot of followers, and you might not. The important thing to remember is this: Don’t take any relationship you have for granted. Maybe then can we laugh at death in the face, fully aware of what’s going to happen and totally fine knowing that — as an artist — your work will be fine. It was always more than fine.

If you like this or didn’t or thought it was a hint of interesting, I’d really appreciate a heart at the bottom of this. This is a broad topic so don’t be shy and reply. Keep creating and keep reading. Thanks!

P.S. The painting is Van Gogh’s “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette”

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