The Illusionists

“It is dangerous to let the public behind the scenes. They are easily disillusioned and they are angry with you, for it was the illusion they loved.”

– W. Somerset Maugham

I couldn’t resist this quote when I saw it as it is a perfect continuation of the discussion in my last post that started with the topic of talking about our art. The public in general does not really have an idea of what it is like to be an artist – I don’t think this is totally due to some unique quality such a life has. I know I don’t really have any idea what it is like to be a surgeon, lawyer or butcher. In many cases, I also idealize those professions in ways that real practitioners of those trades would roll a cynical eye at. Any career, even the most glamorous, has it’s share of drudgery or downright unpleasant work to do.

It is almost impossible to understand any role unless you have been in it yourself. I remember in a prior career when I moved into management (who had always been the adversary and who it was easy to be critical of), I became aware of the realities of making imperfect decisions in the midst of imperfect information. I realized one should always be wary of assuming insight into what others do, why they behave as they do, etc.

I think there is a real reason, however, to support the “illusion” the public has about being an artist. It may inspire them to explore their own artistic side – less likely to happen if you are moaning about some of the tedium involved. It may allow them greater enjoyment of your art – if you complain about what it took to make something, it casts a pall on the piece itself. And it may just allow them to be happy for you, in their belief that you’ve achieved the “good” life. Why steal that away?

There are too few ways in this world to offer something to others – why not honor the illusion that others take pleasure in? Who knows, maybe it we’ll start believing it ourselves and wouldn’t that be a good thing?

5 responses to “The Illusionists

  1. Another marvelously apposite quote Bob – and i agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments reagrding maintaining Le Grande Illusion… far too often, these days, people crave, and are given, a peek behind the “tinsel curtain” – and usually to nobody’s benefit, least of all the peeker. what pleasure can be gleaned from bursting one’s own wondrous balloon? The aftertaste is almost always a sour one, and ultimately disappointing.

    I liked the air of mystery certain bands created back in the day. Some worked hard at it, Blue Oyster Cult were deliberately mysterious, and their music more interesting for it. Steely Dan never felt the need to explain their lyrics. They are a perfect case in point. I’ve enjoyed 30 years of gradually unfolding revelations as “the penny drops” regarding one line or another from them. It’s a wonderful experience, this artistic tease, this glorious education. Where would my fun have been if some misguided author had published a book in 1980 called “Steely Dans lyrics revealed”? So let’s quietly draw the curtain and continue to create moments of wonder!

  2. You’ve got a point there, bob! Even more: I believe all forms of art are about Illusion, a form of evasionism, of escapism from the `drudgery`of life – not only that we should keep the illusion about how we make (or how we live) art but, essentially that`s what we are doing: creating illusions…

    thats why I like so much this citation from W. H. Auden:

    «A man is a form of life that dreams in order to act and acts in order to dream.» But one can replace act with live and it gives you another truthfull (I think) sentence…

  3. In my role as a “seller” of art it is in everyone’s interest that I play the role of the possessor of a charmed artist’s life. However there are times in teaching art when it behooves me to be quite honest about the struggles of always becoming (and often falling short) and never quite reaching ones vision of the perfected artist. Everyone gets discouraged, and only the ones who can see that this is part of the creative process one must soldier through will survive and thrive in their art.

  4. I like the mix of orange and blue in this piece, they are always my favorite complimentary colors. About not destroying the illusion for the audience, I relate to this in the sense that often people see things in my work that I would never see, and rather than trying to define ‘what I mean’ I think it is more interesting to hear about what the audience sees in it.

  5. I can certainly subscribe to the view that disappointment, discouragement and struggle are all part of the tapestry from which your continually creative web is woven. It’s common knowledge that a struggling band will release a far better album than one that has grown fat and lazy reclining on its achievements for example.

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