Great Quotations: On Artists and What Artists Do

What You Say If You’re An Artist
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

If you think of yourself as an artist, here’s a thoughtful quote from an article written by Charles Rosen for The New York Review of Books:
“Conventions are the bulwark of civilization, a guarantee of social protection. They can also be a prison cell. Of course, any art has its conventions, too, just like every other activity, and an artist is expected to fulfill them. Traditionally, however, for at least three millennia and possibly longer, the artist is also expected paradoxically to violate conventions–to entertain, to surprise, to outrage, to be original.”.
–Charles Rosen, “Freedom and Art”. New York Review of Books 5-12-12:39

Artists sometimes must pay an enormous price for breaking with convention–poverty and rejection are the stuff of biographies and novels.  And if breaking with convention is perceived to be a threat to  political or ecclesiastical power, the price often is persecution, exile, and death. The unconventional artist is seen not just as outrageous, but as dangerous to morals, religion, or the state.

Now and again, happily, an artist who breaks with convention finds acclaim and fortune; for instance, Wagner, Picasso, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Bob Dylan, and Lady Gaga

And then there are some unconventional artists for whom fame comes after death. Vincent Van Gogh come to mind.

Why is it that some artists can defy conventions, and thrive, while others do their work in obscurity or are punished?  Part of the answer is time and place, and the mood of the society.  Part of the answer is that some unconventional artists manage to find a powerful patron, sponsor, or defender–a monarch, a powerful editor or publisher, a great collector, a taste-maker.

But there is still an element of chance and unpredictability about the process.  It may be predictable for a society to expect its artists to be original, but what that society gives the artists in return for being original is not always predictable.

—Gene Griessman is an award-winning professional speaker, actor, and consultant. His video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, contact us at 404-435-2225 or [email protected] Learn more about Gene Griessman at and

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Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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