Whitehot Magazine

Noah Becker On The Death Of The Artist-Bohemian

Charles Bukowski. (Photograph by Mark Hanauer)

By NOAH BECKER August, 2019 

I’m not certain artists need drugs and alcohol to create. Certainly the days of a chain-smoking Picasso-like figure pacing around a painting studio is a thing of the past. The romanticized hero artist, the tragic figure has been replaced with the uber-rich trust fund artist or uber-rich millionaire artist in a shiny white studio. The "bohemian artist" in the Charles Bukowski sense is an antiquated construct in 2019 - it’s not interesting to this generation like it was years ago. 

Someday all artists will gather and recall this long-gone era of Trump and vaping and shiny studios whilst wheeling around in the popcorn-lung ward of some hospital in middle America. I’m a dark theorist and as much as I try to reel that aspect in, it’s not easy in our current era. This is a dark era, so dark we can’t even remember where we were before this situation. I’m not enthusiastic about 2020 but I’ll vote Democratic either way.  I feel like what we can’t express in art needs to be said in other ways. Focus has never been in shorter supply but it’s not impossible. I find Buddhist chanting worthwhile, it changed my life – it’s a practice.  Find your inner peace and out of that something great will grow. Don't be too concerned if you are a starving bohemian for the moment...

The world’s happiest place is the art world - there is not place quite like the art world. My idea of a “cultural holocaust” aside, we have a great time in the art scene, especially in New York. But things seem fun other places too - you can have fun in the "fly-over states." New York gets serious, for example  many are now calling for an end to the Warhol/Basquiat narrative but it’s really just a hangover for a certain era – the 1980s. Let’s hope that our era is examined with as much excitement and value as the 1980s. The 1980s: bohemian central...

Many of my art schoool classmates listened to Tom Waits and read all the Bukowski books they could find. I remember when I was studying at art school and my professor said, “Don’t listen to music when you paint, it’s extra entertainment.” That’s true but when I’m painting I need music or television on, otherwise I get what they call an “earworm” when I’m trying to concentrate. An earworm is a fragment of a song that keeps looping in your head. One time I made a painting while watching the movie Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon. By the time I finished the painting, I had watched the film maybe 10 times. Usually listening to Charlie Parker is enough for me to paint to, or reading Rimbaud or Bukowski inspires me.

If you look at a lot of New York Art, especially work from the 1980s, it looks like it was just painted quickly as the artist was off to the next party. There are certain artists I could single out but it’s really just a New York thing at the end of the day. New York is not a “slow art” place - it’s a fast art place. That’s why a lot of slow art painters, if they are based in NYC, hire people to paint their work. I think Nick Nolte in New York Stories is perhaps the quintessential New York artist image. The gruff overpaid Bukowski-like art genius cut from the mold of the Ab-Ex painters. A chain-smoking emotionally messed up man-child... I prefer the Joan Mitchell kind of artist or even Alice Neel - much smarter.

Alice Neel was all about expressing the toll living in New York has on people - how their concentration and focus had been broken down by the city. Focus and concentration is important, especially in the making of paintings or living in New York City – it’s key. There’s a focus people can find through drug use or religion and artists have a tendency to find their faith in unusual ways. The doors in my mind opened by Rimbaud and Bukowski lead me to finding other levels of focus in my life - so it's not a bad thing to idolize this kind of energy. 

People in general find different ways of having faith but I’m just talking about artists right now.  I’m not a religious person, so I’m not drawn to people who have to be religious extremists to make art. Everything is possible though and usually is - even religious extremist art. Art and the art world is a varied scene full of many different ways of being. I’m a fan of fictionalized artist personas like Warhol – an unnatural alien, I prefer that to Bukowski. The enigma of Warhol acting as the anti-human who teaches us how we can be more human than human. But we need both, we need the bohemian and the minimalist in this art world of ours. It's a life situation, we live it - we live art. 

That brings up the ideas Robert Rauschenberg discussed in terms if life vs. art. He was talking about the idea of life and when does life actually happen for artists? Is there life and art or are they one in the same?  Is life a concept or a thing we can make? Does our living experience happen between making art or after art? Rauschenberg said, “We make art but we cannot make life.”

So perhaps it’s a kind of tunnel vision that artists develop through faith or drug and alcohol abuse or vaping? Maybe the chain-smoking Bukowski energy isn't so bad. Whatever makes it possible for us to focus is ok. Focus being most important, while we make useless things for the world to look at too deeply. WM 


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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