I read a recent article by William Deresiewicz called "The Death of the Artist--and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur" and was floored. It seems like a simple statement: the myth of the artist as genius is dead, and "real" artists are creating their own businesses (adjusting to the market). This, though, might be the article that lights a thousand fires; I think that there are undeniable problems with the thinking in this article which makes it all the more dangerous, particularly to those of us who are artists.
I won't be able to address everything at once, but I hope to develop this into further writing about this and send it further than the readership of this blog.
Very simply put: the myth of "artist as genius" is one placed on artists by non-artists, and has never had anything to do with the market. An artist that claimed genius themselves would undoubtedly be scoffed at and ridiculed. Its death then, is merely a fiction created by non-artists to eradicate a class and type of people. Though this may seem extreme, the purpose of getting rid of this class of people will become clear shortly.
There are a number of other problems with the myth of "artist as genius" including the patriarchy within the tradition of art (still prevalent), the predominance of Westernized art traditions (and the Orientalization of other geographic locations by the Western traditions). Assessment of one's ability in art is problematic and is not easily supported by numbers or testing (in which the typical genius assessment is based), and as someone confident in their place in the world of contemporary art, I have no need or want to be labeled as a genius, it serves no purpose.
What I believe is happening here--purposely and rhetorically--forms a smokescreen to keep people from acknowledging what artists most often are: defenders of counterculture. Artists--and yes, I'm going to start making dogmatic statements and issue membership cards--think and live outside of mainstream culture. This includes elements of rebellion, disobedience, and other forms of thinking outside of the normative structures that any place and group of people hold dear.
Not all of what we call artists do this; some are so far within the normative structures as to be ironically conformative, others exploit the system for monetary gain.
This concept of the death of genius--as tired as death of anything is to anyone who has read about painting in the last 20 years--is thusly a way to prevent creative thinking outside the system. This is a way to commodify creativity and silence the non-conformists. This article proposes that if artists are not geniuses, then they should be (or are) entrepreneurs.
Deresiewicz's article could hide behind the guise of observation, and as the author he could claim to only be observing culture. Even if this is the case, he has oversimplified hundreds of years of culture and is not thinking critically about culture to boot. To write this article acknowledges a number of difficult assumptions that I will continue to discuss in conjunction with some other writings.