I remember hearing about Vincent Van Gogh as a child; the unsuccessful artist, plagued by his own creativity and only admired after his death. I did not like to hear his story; it did not give me hope as a six year old, aspiring artist. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than missing out on all that fame and fortune after you’d passed away.
This week I organised to showcase some of my own work in a shop window in Sheffield in February. Already in this window were several canvases of abstract paintings by the late Gordon Snee. I was told that he had hundreds of paintings that no one had ever seen, and now they are selling for a substantial amount of money after his death. I starting to feel saddened again by yet another story of a ‘failed’ artist, before stopping myself in my tracks. Was he a ‘failed’ artist or did he simply find success in the smell of the paint, the sound of the bristles on the canvas and the sight of the colourful lines and shapes? What is a successful artist anyway? Are we not able to enjoy his paintings now he is no longer alive?
We always seem to hear great life stories of people after their deaths: poetry hidden under beds, canvases stored in a loft, memoires of lives previously undiscovered. In a funny way, I think that’s what is meant to happen - as though God, the universe, a one-eared ghost, or whatever you want to believe in, wants us to know that our lives should display some form of beauty that was never really meant to be about us. Do we not all have something important to bring to others? Surely our work is meaningless if it only lasts in our own lifetime.
This has totally challenged the way I approach my work. Of course, we all need to make money and we all need aspirations, but what about the kind of fingerprint we will leave behind? If our only purpose is to make money then our lives will be pretty shallow and soon forgotten about. If our only purpose is for fame then we will be remembered for nothing of worth. If we do things out of a heart response to something important to us, then maybe, just maybe, future generations will still be talking about it. And it won’t make a dot of difference to you whether that happens now or long after you’re dead and buried because it was never really about you in the first place.