Messy hair, weird clothes, individualistic- “artists” are represented in our pop culture as the outcast, someone who is extremely different than those around them. They are constantly faced with obstacles to overcome. Whether in TV or film, the “artist” identity is portrayed with these similarities. In this paper I am going to discuss the characteristics that create this identity, and how that has impacted my life as an actual artist.
The first character I want to analyze is “Katherine Watson” from Mona Lisa Smile. Katherine is an art teacher from the West coast who decides to pack up and head to one of the most conservative schools on the East coast. She easily stands out because of the way she dresses, thinks, and teaches. She was labeled progressive, and too different to be successful. At one point she is threatened to lose her position if she keeps acting the way she has been- basically for being herself. But Katherine is dedicated to making a difference. She is a strong, confident character and able to stay true to herself, despite extreme opposition. She asks her students to actually think for themselves, and not just give the answer they have been trained to spit out. Katherine is seen as the movie’s hero, and savior to these girls. By challenging them to look past the surface, her students realize that there is so much more to art than meets the eye, and what is explained in an old art history book. With this mindset, her students are able to look at their entire lives differently. Not only did this teacher impact the way these girls experienced art, but also the way they wanted to live life.
Just like “Katherine,” “Pam Beesly” from The Office experiences her own set of struggles and obstacles she must overcome. In this TV show Pam is a receptionist- not what she really wants to be doing. She experiences a great struggle to find her artistic voice, and ultimately her own voice as a human being. It is difficult for her to pursue her creativity because there is always something in the way. Pam doesn’t get a lot of support from those around her, her boyfriend doesn’t want her to apply to art school because there is “no guarantee of a job after.” All of these things add up to a very insecure, meek, struggling character who knows what she wants, but is too afraid to chase it. I think this might be reflected in the way she dresses also- pretty conservative for an ‘artist,’ with collared shirts, baby blue and pink sweaters, very clean and neat. There is a point in the life of Pam Beesly where she overcomes these obstacles and finally says what she has been meaning to say all these years. In “The Beach” episode, Pam speaks out to her entire group of co-workers. She is confident, not afraid, and declares what she wants to in the moment she needed to. She rises above her old self, and transforms into this new strong character full of drive. You can tell it was difficult for Pam to muster up the courage to speak out like that in front of the entire group- something she had been trying to do for years. She doesn’t make direct eye contact at first, but towards the end of her declaration she speaks directly to them. Her words gain power as she says them with more authority and strength. Even Pam says, “Wow, I feel really good right now,” (The Office). She overcomes the opposition that terrorized her and kept her captive for so many years, coming out of her shell into the person she was born to be. After this she has a new-found confidence that carries over into all aspects of her life. Pam begins to pursue her art, and is not afraid with what the outcome may be. She found her voice.
“Gabrielle Chanel” (Coco Before Chanel) was also someone who had a rough start. She was abandoned by her father at a young age, so right off the bat she had to learn how to be the provider for herself and sister. That is a very difficult thing for a child to do. As a result, we see her character as a strong, independent individual. She also starts out not doing the thing she ultimately ends up pursuing and absolutely loving it. One of her first jobs is singing and dancing at her local bar. She also sewed the costumes she wore while performing. It wasn’t until she met a very rich man who supplied her with an opportunity to pursue her creative side, and thrive. What started out as designing hats turned into one of the most famous and successful fashion designers. The movie ends with a hero and a triumph. Coco was able to overcome the opposition that faced her life and rise above it. Proving what a strong and determined individual her character is.
What are the messages being told here? How are the ways these artists are being represented affecting us? I found a lot of similarities within all three characters. I feel the biggest meaning we can draw from these representations is that all artists are faced with some sort of opposition, and triumphantly defeat it. “Katherine” was placed in an environment of people who didn’t like the person she was because she was different, and wasn’t allowed to teach the way she knew how. “Pam” spent years as a slave to her own insecurity, never being able to speak up for herself. “Coco” was left alone by her parent, she had to grow up all on her own and learn everything herself with no one to guide her. Despite these challenges all three characters overcame them and arose victorious. “Katherine” successfully created a lasting change at the school and in the hearts and minds of her students. “Pam” was able to find her voice, and as a result, found herself. “Coco” rose above her circumstances to pursue her creative desires and became successful in her form.
The artists portrayed in the movies and TV shows are surrounded by people who don’t believe in them or don’t support their ambitions. There is opposition to the direction they want to take their life. These characters are misunderstood- no one understands what they’re feeling or going through. Because of this they find it difficult to find their artistic voice. These artists are living in a community of non-artists so they experience a struggle to find themselves and creativity. What is the meaning we derive from this? If you are an artist, you are going to be surrounded with people who don’t think anything like you, and will therefore completely misunderstand your goals and aspirations. It is going to be a challenge to express your voice as an artist because not a lot of people will be there to support you along the way. But with this struggle to find yourself comes great triumph and even greater victories. All of the characters I have analyzed ended in great successes. They grew, became determined, strong, confident, and powerful.
In my own experience as an artist I will admit that some of the representations found in pop culture are true. We do face a different set of obstacles than other people. And we sometimes feel misunderstood with those who are not like-minded. I don’t know if the struggle is as extreme as it is represented. I will say it is important to have your own voice as an artist. You need to know who you are, and that will carry through to your art and all other areas of life. But the extreme struggle and opposition might be taken a little too far. I also think it’s offensive that the artists in pop culture are oftentimes seen as people who can’t hold down a job, or are very unprofessional. I have to wholeheartedly disagree with that. That is a definite generalization, certainly not all artists are like this.
I think there a lot of us in the art community who are upset with the way artists have been represented in pop culture, because it is not always an accurate reflection of reality. An interesting blog post I discovered brought up a good point about how artist stereotypes are used for entertainment: “These stereotypes, the classic role of the artist, are entertaining. They intrigue readers and moviegoers. That said, the stereotypes have infiltrated beyond the realm of mere entertainment. These stereotypes have been used against artists by politicians and others who are in positions that can impact the arts in general,” (Discuss: Stomping out artist stereotypes). The writer talks about the negative impact these stereotypes have had on the art community, because a lot of actual artists do not fit the mold that these stereotypes have become. The ‘classic role of the artist’ as the writer states, are just not always true. Artists in reality are able to be professional, on time, and have direction.
Overall I think we all have a similar idea of what an ‘artist’ looks like, talks like, and acts like. This identity has been created by stereotypes repeated over and over again in TV shows and movies throughout pop culture. Although some content is hopeful and positive, I think the majority of the ‘artist’ identity is seen as a tortured soul faced with extreme opposition and little support for who they are. I believe that the art community can move past this and prove to be a determined, creative, professional group of people. Despite all the stereotyping portrayed in the media, actual artists prove to be someone different.