“Fame! I’m gonna live forever.” Or so the lyrics of the song go.  Americans are living in an atmosphere obsessed with celebrity, regardless if they have any real merit to be famous (or infamous).

“Fame, for a painter,” said Pablo Picasso, “means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated. I am rich.”  Other artists like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali became celebrity artists.  Since there were plenty of sycophants and art dealers to promote their work, these artists endlessly promoted themselves.

“There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society,” said the noted priest/psychologist Henri Nouwen. “Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired. Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It has become difficult to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with patience, perseverance, and love.”

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be a well known and successful artist like Picasso? But what does fame or success really mean to an artist? There is the stereotype of artists who are consumed with their creative passion and care nothing for money.  I have known many such artists and admit to being a bit like that myself.  No matter how reluctantly, artists must become business savvy and be able to sell their work.  They can’t depend on being discovered by an art dealer or promoter.  They have to be assertive about marketing their work on the street, at a park show, or doing whatever it takes to support their art. Yes, it may even mean taking a job and being a part-time artist, which is better than being a full time starving artist.

Well none of this is new. Artists have been going through this same thing for centuries. I think if you asked any artist if they really want fame and success, they would say they want the type of fame and success that would allow them to continue with their art. Creating art is part of our soul – part of who we are inside.  So, to gain success for our art is to gain regard and validation for us as a person. A true artist does not create art to gain fame and success; fame and success allows the artist to create art.