I recently watched a great documentary about William S. Burroughs, and it left me thinking about how closely I identify myself as a fan of iconoclastic works of art and historical figures. These people have made names for themselves by digging new trenches through sacred ground in order to redefine the limits of free expression in their societies. I began thinking about how very few people around me - particularly at work - care about these people or how they changed the world. I can but wonder, as I get older, if overexposure to to artistically sterile environments reduces my conductivity to art as a catalyst for self discovery and growth.

I cannot imagine a society without iconoclastic, unpredictable figures. They help define the boundaries of expression in our society. I have always related to painters, musicians, and writers who, through sheer nerve or raw talent, are on the fringes - not by choice, but because they've always belonged there. I've always taken for granted that all of my favorite artists appeal to the darkness in peoples' hearts. Whether depraved or inspirational, the best art informs us of that darkness and encourages us to never let it out of our sight. Is that normal? Is there a morose draw to the dark side of the human condition that we all share together, or is is just me? Based on what I observe at work and in general company (outside of a very small circle of closer friends), I'm not sure that most people want to peer into that darkness at all. They want to be entertained, and they don't want to think too hard, because, well, life is hard, and raising a family is hard, and marriage is hard, and sometimes, art is exhausting.

I think of the aforementioned Burroughs, and others like WIlde, DuChamp and Bunuel and Dali and their ilk, Frida Kahlo, Warhol, Ghandi, even Nikola Tesla and Carl Jung. Time honors these folks, but in their time they were blessed with being one step ahead but cursed to always be out of step and out of sync with society at large. They exhausted and frustrated their peers with their relentless vision, and now they're lauded for it.

The most famous artists attempt to capture their dreams and visions on paper and they do so through music and painting and blueprints and what-have-you. For them there is always a disconnect between what they sense, and feel, and experience, and what they are able to communicate to the world. Their frustration at that disconnect fuels their passion for pushing the boundaries. They describe the resentment they feel for following rules that seem, to them, restrictive and intolerant of what a fearless and passionate human experience should be about. That is often the mantra of the most committed artists, and, as I've said above, this kind of no-holds-barred commitment scares most people. It's not friendly. It's not always compromising. To use an expression I dislike: 'It is what it is.'

Ultimately, it is the iconoclast who blazes trails of thought. A famous Burroughs quote comes to mind: "Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact." Deepening a trough is a worthwhile thing, but truth is, someone put the trough there before you. What's to stop us from carving out our own paths? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

Things like fear of authority, fear of retribution, fear of punishment are all things that prevent some artists from ever breaking out into true expression. A lack of resources and lack of connectivity with like-minded artists, a lack of access to certain circle of peoples can often result in potentially great artists fizzling out and never finding their voice.

There is also an interesting theory that privileged backgrounds often foster the bravest artists, since they are the ones who have the most to prove, and the most to bust away from. They also have access to the best education, and the best supplies, and the best contacts. Up to a degree, art is an investment, and when it's not, and still succeeds, it's a fluke, or there is a horrible tragic tale somewhere to up the asking price.

I was raised in a lower middle class environment, but I had access to a wealth of education through my background as the child of an art educator. I didn't take full advantage of it, and I am no artist, and certainly no iconoclast, but my failure to 'be that' has more to do with my lifelong struggles between two notions of living one's life. It's a universal conflict, one we all face, but for an artist with an interior life that often threatens to blaze out of control, this conflict really comes into focus.

This conflict, between a life 'lived to the fullest,' fearlessly, no-holds-barred, constant turmoil and discovery, and a life lived safely, building up foundations that last, entrenching into comfort zones, is a conflict between extremity and normalcy. You might say, 'why only two choices? isn't there an in-between somewhere? isn't there a compromise?'

My answer is, for an iconoclastic artist, there is often no compromise. It's either pursuing dreams to the fullest, or finding an alternative far from them.  The incredible 'My Dinner With Andre' (easily one of my favorite movies of all time) pursues a dialogue about the massive gulf between those two modes of living one's life, and it doesn't settle on easy answers. There are no easy answers.

A tide has surged in and out of me all my life. I've wrestled with childhood fears of authority and punishment, and consequences of going too far. On the other hand, I've flirted with yearnings for something more dangerous, unstable and transcendent, always coming close to the sun but too afraid to let the burning wax hurt me, or the scary lurch of an endless fall consume me. That fear has kept me moored to my rigid and fearful temperament, but it has always made me unstable and inconsistent, not just inside myself, but in dealing with others. 

While I've simply always been too obsessed with my own attrition to ever become an iconoclast, I married someone who has grown fiercer and more consumed with her artistic ferocity with each passing year. I envision her developing into a less compromising, more iconoclasic figure - and all that it entails. Perhaps, if I am receptive enough, I can learn a thing or two from her as we develop as artists and as human beings.


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