Tuesday, May 13, 2008

poor artists and rich husbands

In 1988 I was freelancing for Christian Dior as a makeup artist, often putting in a week at Macy’s. This was the biggest Dior counter in the 48 states and a crazy house of business, not that far removed from the frenzy below, the 33rd Street subway station.

I had a returning client, an artist who showed all over the world (she still does). She’s got the huge, tremendous loft in Soho, acquired sometime in the late 70s, the whole nine yards. She kept telling me I had to marry a rich man. This was the way to get that art career. - Or at least be able to paint for life, she said, because your feet are not going to hold out forever in this job, while painting at night too. (She was right about that actually – I had surgery on both of my feet in the 90s – a common NYC retail thing).

So she arranged a party to which not only was I invited but also her rich single neighbor. He also had the fabulous loft in Soho, just waiting, as it turned out, for the right woman to waltz in and decorate it. For at least the party I was game enough.

I remember the night very well – I went to a Christopher Makos exhibition at Ronald Feldman right before the party. The show was photographs of Andy Warhol in drag - every single photograph. The photos are pretty famous actually. There was a long line winding outside the door onto the street, just to get in. After I left the place, I found a playing card of the King of Diamonds outside her loft’s door. I took this as some kind sign.

.... I could barely get through the dinner as this Frenchman she had in mind was so dull. Then a stranger walked in and I thought to myself, well now here is something interesting. Like a brat I left the party with the new guy and we went dancing at a nightclub called MK.

We still tried it though, the Frenchman and I, with a couple of dates later. Nothing happened and it never did when someone championed the marry-a-rich-man idea.

Once I moved into the computer age, I ran across my artist friend and could trace her well deserved success. She was always a great painter. She seems happy in marriage too - although come to think of it, she never talked about it.

- When I shared this story with a businessman recently, he asked me: "Did she tell the rich guy that ‘what you need to do is to marry an artist?’” I laughed, realizing how much my perception of “living with an artist” in the intervening 20 years had changed.

At one time and for a long time, I thought this was some sort of a wonderful thing for the person who has no art in their life, but would like to. Some people see art from a distance, something they enjoy, but they know they’re missing out on vital information. The artist in their lives supposedly provides this - makes museum trips more fun, decorates your house, adds all kinds of sweet touches.

As an artist you buy into this idea too, you think you have something to offer. And if you are uncomplicated enough, it comes off just like that - a smooth exchange where each can offer things the other doesn't have.

But I now know that artists are very, very complicated creatures. Interviews with artists have really opened my eyes in ways I never expected. Everyone has a got a story that most people don't know about, especially if they are making very singular work. That work doesn't come out of nowhere and often the people who make it are no walk on the beach. They are not here to brighten the world, liven up a party, decorate life or any of that.

Well, maybe they can do it at a dinner party. I guess they better be charming at openings. But once they are home or in the studio, life takes over.


Steven LaRose said...

What about us spartan and whimsical painters and our intelligent wifes?

Steven LaRose said...

intelligent and patient

Sus said...

Do you know? I am married, for twenty-five years. I wouldn't trade my husband for anyone; he treats me like a queen. But making money is not his thing. Given all of that, I can't believe how many of my fellow artists think of me as a "lady artist" whose husband is supporting her career.

Steven LaRose said...

I woke up this morning and reread this post. I thought of two things,

a) is there a version of the DINKS (Dual Income No Kids) for artists? That is, a couple who are happily downwardly noble? Sometimes in my relationship I know that my wife doesn't "get" it, and it leads to some tense moments. ("It" being the futile, self-centered, ridiculous, anti-capitalistic nature of time spent in the studio). Would I be happier if I had married another fool like me?

b) I thought of the old joke: What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend? Homeless!

Eva said...


When my husband first married me, he had no idea how complex and convoluted the life of an artist is, in both the interior and exterior way. Maybe I didn't even know! - until I had something else to really compare it to.

But I living with another artist didn't work for me... two people needy in the same areas, even if it is just an establishment of the ID of artist - is a subtly competitive situation. It's already hard enough with your friends.

Sus, in so many fields I worked in, it was always assumed that I never had to make as much money as the guy. This only chnaged as the 90s came on. Unbelievable, but true.

Sus said...

Yeah, at the beginning of the nineties, I had already been married for several years. At that point, I was supporting my husband. About ten years ago, I decided to re-focus on my art instead of a job. And even now, I am making as much as my husband. But still, there's this assumption.



Steven, we're dinks, just poor ones! and I feel you, Ev, on the two artists under one roof thing. NoNoNo!

Anonymous said...

Well, Sus, this could all be a topic for another post, though I am not sure how much energy I want to put into it ... but...

Loving another artist can be enthralling - and totally humiliating. Nowadays girls can probably have an equal and maybe even upper hand, but for me it was like one big lecture. Yech.

namastenancy said...

When I was at the SFAI, I was also advised to marry a wealthy man. I was far too independent to do that - instead, several years later, I married a "professional" student and all-around-jerk. That sure ended my painting for several years and after I divorced him, it took me many more years to get back into painting. Love, sex and being a woman artist are a difficult mixture. I say woman because most of the male artists that I know and the ones that I've read about have a staunch and devoted female support group - wife, girlfriend or patron. Most women artists are not so lucky.

Eva said...

Nancy, thanks for the visit and the comment.

So here's a question...
....is indeed love, sex and art always in the mix for a woman artist?
I ask this because I think it was definitely the case for me and for every woman artist I knew. All inseperable. But today, maybe it's different.

If a woman wanted to write a memoir of her life in art, there would probably be love and sex in it too. But maybe it's a given with a man too - just a different way of moving in the power structure.

namastenancy said...

I think that for most women artists that I've read about, it's love and sex, not sex by itself. The only exception that comes to mind is Louise Nevelson but she fudged so many things in her interviews and biography that who knows what's true and not. I also don't know about Joan Mitchell but I just finished reading "The Turning Point" by April Kingsley and women artists of the 50's sure didn't fare well if they hooked up with male artists. I don't think the issues are really with love or sex but how they are used in a society where men have such power. I'd hope that things are changing but I am not that optimistic. What I see of the hipster art culture in SF is male chauvinist with skateboards; I sure don't see any of the young, tattooed male artists supporting their artist wives - but I could be wrong. I look around the art students at SFSU and wonder how many of them will be painting in 5 years time, much less 50.

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Eva said...

Hey again Nancy,

It took me decades to learn that hooking up with another creative was actually harmful to my art and whatever career I could muster. No matter how supportive your mate tries to be, they've almost always got more of a voice and it's used to being heard. Plus so much "advice" and "opinion" began to just imply inadequacy, no matter how well meant. I have no idea how much things have changed.

Anonymous said...

who is the famous lady artist?

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon,

I wouldn't call her famous. She does show all over the world (she's from another country and that probably helps) and I can read about her shows online. You could say that about a lot of artists who aren't particularly famous though.