There’s beautiful, ugly and fugly – Carrie Miller ponders the rise of the good lookin’ artist…
Is it just me, or have you noticed that artists seem to be a more attractive lot these days? And I don’t mean in the romantic, dishevelled, ‘outsider’ sense. I mean in a mainstream, GQ kind of way. In fact, that magazine now elevates such types by including them in their Man of the Year feature (Vogue could equally do such a spread – the chicks seem to be getting cuter as well).
So what’s driving this trend?
While it’s true that throughout history some individual artists achieved a level of crossover fame in their lifetime, it was the Cult of Personality that took root in the 20th Century and spilled over from political to popular culture around the same time the mass media emerged that saw artists go from relative anonymity to become media personalities whose images were as important as their work. The two pre-eminent examples of this cultural shift are Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol – neither of whom would be considered conventionally attractive. Instead, they cultivated the artist-as-freak persona – commercially exploiting the romantic notion of eccentricity as inherent to the artistic personality. They both exaggerated their kookiness and played up their less than becoming visages.
Then Jeff Koons – in the guise of the ultimate postmodern businessman – showed up, personifying Warhol’s claim that “the best art is good business”. While more demented Mormon than good-looking professional on the appearance front, Koons nevertheless embodied a broader shift in the way artists perceive themselves and are perceived. Increasingly, people have dropped the romantic view of art-making as a God-given vocation and artists as marginalised characters slaving away in their garrets. Now it’s often seen as a middle-class career choice by young people who could potentially succeed in any number of creative professions. And they are starting to look the part.
Of course, there is still a lot of diversity among artists – but even this diversity has become appropriated into the mainstream. What was once considered truly ‘alternative’ is now just one of a number of lifestyle choices. We live in a world where even the look of homeless people is a fashion category.
When there is so much competition in an industry as there is in the visual arts, it makes sense that the more boxes you tick, the better your chances are at succeeding. And in an image-saturated culture, one of those boxes is, well, your image. In the same way that artists who can talk in sound bites tend to get ahead of those who are less snappily articulate about their work, artists who look good add something to the overall package to be marketed.
But for those of you who weren’t so blessed by nature’s gifts – don’t despair. You may not get the career you want but you’re still going to do better than your non-creative counterparts in an equally important area of life: the mating department. A recent UK study from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne found that personality traits common to ‘creative types’ ( including visual artists) such as ‘impulsive non-conformity’ lead to an increase in sexual partners. And the more serious you are at your practice, the more you’re likely to score. The study demonstrated a correlation between ‘serious and professional producers’ and a higher number of sexual partners, compared with ‘non-producers and hobby producers’ who had a lower number.
The author of the study Dr Daniel Nettle explains that “creative people are often considered to be very attractive and get lots of attention as a result. They tend to be charismatic and produce art and poetry that grab’s people’s interest”. So don’t worry if you’re average in the looks department – your charm might be just as likely to get you noticed. And if that fails, according to Dr Nettle, your ‘bohemian lifestyle’ means you’re more likely to “act on more sexual impulses and opportunities, often purely for experience’s sake, than the average person would”.
So, stop your whingeing. Being an artist isn’t such a hard road to trudge after all. Even if you’re not the slick, self-promoting, photogenic type, at least you’ve got a better than average chance of pulling a root.