The goals of art and the artist | Sunday Observer

The goals of art and the artist

20 June, 2021

Does one choose to be an artist or is it providential? Is the life of the artist which can in some cases be rife with strife, a fatality? I have asked myself this question thinking of how the arts bring fame and fortune to some while others relentlessly struggle to survive through their art. Some of them never taste recognition during their lifetime, and their genius is sometimes ‘discovered’ posthumously. Art is born through some considerable suffering and struggle of the human heart and soul. And all art is born through some form of human experience.

The biographical movie Big Eyes directed by Tim Burton brings out a number of questions as to what can be the prime motive for the artist to engage with his or her chosen craft to create ‘expressions of experiences’. Featuring Amy Adams and Christopher Waltz in the lead roles as Margaret and Walter Keane the movie tells the true story of how a mass scale art ‘con’ was perpetuated by Walter Keane who fraudulently claimed credit for paintings by his wife, and embarked on a highly lucrative ‘enterprise’ of ‘canvassing the social fabric’ as the socialite artist who produces the immensely sought after ‘Waif’ paintings which portray vagrant children who are characterised by noticeably large eyes.

It is by sheer chance that one of Margaret’s paintings catches the eye of a potential European buyer at a jazz club where works of the couple are exhibited together. When Walter is assumed to be the painter he simply affirms the presumption with delight and thus begins a journey of exploitation and fraud. Walter who claims he studied art in Paris is actually a former realtor who couldn’t realise his ambitions of becoming a painter. But seeing how he handles the media attention and the rising fame with gusto Walter shows that he is a spotlight hound who enjoys the celebrity stature that comes to a celebrated artist. The fame and fortune that comes to the successful artist is apparently the sole goal of the fraud Walter Keane and not the joy and satisfaction of creating a work of art, which it is revealed he is utterly incapable of!

Big eyed waifs

What is remarkable is how the ‘big eyed waifs’ captures the hearts and attention of multitudes and becomes a cash crop for the business savvy Walter who decides to produce low cost reproductions and makes the pictures mass market products that soon spurs a ‘movement’ out of the ‘works’ and the ‘public discourse’ which he authors craftily through the media and effective interpretations of what he passes off as his paintings.

Deprived of what matters the most to any sincere artist –credit, not fame as such, but recognition of the authorship of his or her creation, Margaret is made a hapless victim of a crassly exploitative man with no conscience. The story shows how a spotlight craving Walter finally exceeds his oppressive ‘regime’ imposed on his wife and sets the stage for his own downfall which gives Margaret her due place as the painter of the much celebrated ‘big eyed waifs’.

Big Eyes speaks of how the first reward that matters to any true artist is credit for the creation. Anything and everything else that may follow as positive gains as fame and fortune, would be secondary.

But to the businessman who sees art as nothing more than a means to certain ends –fame and fortune, art has no purpose of its own as a creation. To the mercenary profiteer who was Walter Keane a work of art is not an end it itself. Perhaps it was the heart and soul which he showed he lacked that disabled him from becoming a painter in the first place.