I think you can become an artist through upheaval, through trauma and through a lot of unexplainable means, but it depends if you want to know about art or if you want to be an artist. I think there is a difference.
I think somebody can be educated about art and if somebody has talent they can be nurtured into being an artist. They can also be stymied in some way because some people don’t belong in art school and I don’t think you can learn how to be an artist. I think you can learn how to be a more conscious person.
There is something about being an artist that doesn’t have anything to do with logic and you can make certain generalities about things. There are more artists that come from middle class families than from rich families. It’s easier if you can forge your own future and you don’t have a system that is superimposed on you where you have to take over your father’s business. And usually people that have to work all the time just trying to survive are more preoccupied with getting food in their mouth than they are with thinking about how they feel about life and having a moment to reflect.
So maybe my father was a stowaway on a boat coming from Antwerp to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1925 and working at God knows how many jobs so I could be an artist. Did he understand anything about what I was doing? My father had no education at all. His father died when he was eight years-old. He was from Czechoslovakia and while he wasn’t the oldest child, he was the first one that came to the United States by himself.
When I had a show at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankford, Germany in 2004, it was a few days after my father died. He was 92 when he died. I looked at all the paintings that were in this retrospective exhibition and I didn’t see myself in any of them. I saw my parents. So what happens in between that space where you recognize something that’s imbued in you by other people, a kind of optimism or something that’s positive that you can use and then you turn it into something that you don’t necessarily know the name of?
I don’t know that everybody is designed like that, but the one thing I would say just for myself about being an artist is that being a painter freed me from certain obvious linear ways of telling a story, for making hierarchal judgments about certain images that might be more important than other ones.