Self Absorbed Geniuses

There’s an exhibition opening later this month at the National Gallery in London called Rebels and Matyrs. The theme is a common one that artists sometimes use to their own advantage. Promoting themselves as the outsider or the misunderstood genius.

The exhibition includes artists from Romanticism through to the 20th century; Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rodin, Picasso and Schiele.

Some created their own myths and some were really misunderstood geniuses that lived troubled lives.
Mark Irving from the Times newspaper has wrote a review of the exhibition, and more interestingly about artists and how self absorbed we often are..

Artists on the road to martyrdom
“Artists find nothing quite as fascinating as themselves. When the Medici started their celebrated collection of artist self-portraits, housed in the corridor that Giorgio Vasari built in 1565 to link the Uffizi via the Ponte Vecchio with the Pitti Palace, they set in train a cult of the self that pervades contemporary art today.
Walk through any graduate art show and you’ll see the signs: the shaky video work, the obscure narratives, the fetishistic self-absorption, the over- written “artist’s statement”. The blame for much of this selfimportance can be laid at the door of Romanticism, that seizure of the imagination that dominated the 19th century, a period when artists shook off their feudal ties with the established order and started polishing the first-person pronoun.” Times Online

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Of course we are, most artists put their heart and soul into what they do, so it’s not odd that it’ll be highly personal work with one self as the starting point. IF you also tend to work emotionally, trying to convey something, a feeling or whatever, you’ll usually have something from your own personal life to “tell” about. About self portraits… I do them because I think it’s really really interesting to see a lot of fine features and details in a face, that you usually don’t see because you never look hard or long enough to notice. I would LOVE to do portraits of other people that fascinate me, but most people don’t care to sit long enough, and they’ll also expect a result that is perfect. A self portrait doesn’t need to come out perfect with the likeness, and you’ll have all the patience of sitting still that you need. :) I also discover things about myself when I do them, that are not always physicall, it’s wonderful.

  2. There are fine artists and there are graphic artists. Fine artists produce art that has meaning for themselves. Graphic artists produce what they are told ie work that has meaning for their paymaster. If you work to commision you usually have to paint what the money wants. Usually the best art is produced by artists working on art that interests, even obsesses them rather than doing stuff for other people just because they have the money. I’ve met many sad artists producing what they themselve consider to be second rate stuff supposedly because “it’s what people want” Usually it doesn’t sell or goes cheap and they would be better off doing what they really believe in. The self obsessed artist at least believes in themselves and maybe thats why we remmember their work.

  3. Few artists are geniuses. Few in any line of work, science, engineering, scholarship, politics, whatever, are geniuses.
    A foremost student of science and scientists suggested that the motivation for most of the very best, as well as others, was to be the first to discover something new. The same self-aggrandisement (and I do not use it as a pejorative but descriptively-actions intended to enlarge, broaden and strengthen the self.
    When asked, most top scientists, scholars, and most top representatives in any field would answer, I do it because it is gratifying, because I express myself in that manner. They may not mean it but that is the what late 20th century educated people have been taught to say and feel.
    However, give credit where credit is due. Thanks to social and cultural functions of the designation, artists were among the first, if not the first, occupational category to be characterized as one in which only the ability to penetrate into and express the hidden depths of self and others would allow them to function at their best.
    The idea that one must love what one does, one must be obsessed by what one does, one must not be motivated by other than pure motives of devotion rather than impure motives of wealth, respect, power, and the like, is today expressed for every occupation striving for acceptance as a profession, a designation of honor above that of worker, craftsman, technician.
    It was not always so. It may not always be so. However, until the idea is regenerated that artists, like others in society, work first because what they do is needed, whatever may be that job, and only second for what they need or want. Paul Goodman, poet,writer,social critic, expressed it essentially this way in his 1960 ( I believe )
    book, Growing Up Absurd, (paraphrasing): any job, no matter how backbreaking, stupifying, de-humanizing, is a job worth doing, is a job for which one should be, and often in the past has been, honored by the person because it has been honored by the group.
    If one looks as best one can, at what the primary motivation, not the only one, of the two often designated as the best of Western artists in the 20th Century,one will find (at least this has been the hypothesis of a number of biographers, that it was the desire to be (which means to be seen as) the best artist in the world.Certainly to Picasso, probably to Matisse, this meant being the best in Paris (when they were starting their careers.

  4. That little polemic stirred some defensive reactions, didn’t it?
    Justify it, rationalize it, pseudo-intellectualize it, bullshit as much as you like, but art boils down to communication: one person communicating with another. When it works, whatever the medium – art, music, movies – for a moment you catch a glimpse of what was in somebody else’s mind, and it can knock you breathless. Most of the time it doesn’t work, either because you’re on different wavelengths or because the artist has nothing to communicate.
    The self absorbed “genuis” is merely masturbating. He doesn’t really want to communicate with anyone else. Why lower himself to communicate with plebs?
    As for the old cliche about prostituting one’s art by being commercial…phooey! Try making a movie without a financial backer. People with money usually want to buy the best. They may be clueless about art and they may well want to butcher a masterpiece until it serves their purpose, but hey, that’s life. Starving in a garret isn’t the answer, unless you’re more interested in feeling sorry for yourself than in selling your art.
    The old masters grabbed every patron they could. No social security in those days. But they didn’t paint passively. They fulfilled their commissions in a way that expressed their own vision of the subject, their own style and their own talent. The discerning patron – and there have been a few – actually wants the personal vision of the artist he employs, rather than a bland rendition of his chosen subject.
    Of course the one person you must satisfy above all others is your agent!

  5. The comments on this blog were sufficiently inspiring or should we save provocative enough to make me, an artist too, to join the “fray”. However due to the particular structure of my commentry and its length I chose to blog( separately, although it is, in my view a continuation of the journey initiated by this blog.


  1. […] Bhat of Germany was moved enough by the comments on the Self Absorbed Geniuses post to start his own blog at the age of 54. The post was about the Rebels and Matyrs exhibition at […]

Speak Your Mind