“Funny when you’re dead, how people start listening.”
When I heard these lyrics from the song ‘If I die Young’ by The Band Perry, I realized how much this is such a tragic truth seen especially in many of the artists and writers we know today. These artists will never know how much they have revolutionized the arts.
How much they’ve helped create work that have transcended the boundaries of our traditions in what we conceive as art. How they have become the legends that we read about in books and they don’t even know it.
What a tragedy to live a life thinking you were a failure; that you were destined to remain undiscovered, unseen, and unappreciated. Oh, if only they have known what they mean to us now.
In an episode of iZombie, an exhibit of a recently deceased artist is addressed by an audience, “The best thing an artist can do for their career is die.” I never imagined these words could be placed together.
I saw a pattern wherein one could consider, is living a life of genuine hard work under wraps and having an early death the recipe for achieving fame and recognition for one’s effort? Why do artists need to die before we realize the quality and merit of their work? It seems more like a curse.
We may know them as being famous for their masterpieces, contributing to the diversity of technique and style. So imagining they lived a life thinking they were useless seems like an injustice; it seems pretty hard to digest.
1. Johannes Vermeer
Who is ‘the girl with the pearl earring’? Well, this painting of a mysterious woman is made by no other than Johannes Vermeer.
The famous painting was the creation of an artist who lived with the fate of those forced into a life without public fame during his lifetime.
2. Paul Cezanne
In his lifetime, his work was not parallel to his Impressionist contemporaries. He was considered to be frowned upon by the public forcing him to adapt to isolation and solitude.
What’s worse was his friend, Emile Zola, made a book called L’Oeuvre about a protagonist who is a painter depicted as a failure in the art world. Cezanne took this personally.. and well, let’s just say they aren’t friends anymore.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, Fitzgerald was well reputed for one of the most popular and critically acclaimed pieces in literature- The Great Gatsby. But that was only after he died thinking he was a failure.
And just like the most famous character in this novel, Fitzgerald seemed to share the same funeral that Jay Gatsby did- one where “nobody came.”
4. John Keats
One of the famous contributing poets of the Romantics, Keats, known for his odes and ‘Hyperion’, strived to achieve fame but never reached it until after his early death at a mere 25 years old.
During his lifetime, he was competing against the likes of Percy Bysshe Shelley (who also did not obtain fame in his lifetime) and the famous Lord Byron.
Keats thought of himself as an immense failure to the point where he chose his epitaph to hold the words
“Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
5. The most tragic one would have to be Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh, who had one of the most transcendent influences in the name of art, didn’t get the chance to experience success during his lifetime. Amongst the 900 paintings and 1100 drawings and sketches, he only sold one painting in his life.
His eccentricities, his troublesome experiences that he channeled to his work gave birth to a wonderland of masterpieces that have achieved life after death as we continue to acknowledge and praise those works today through museums, art history etc.
Though some of us can never fully accept the tragic destiny of these revolutionary artists and writers, I guess it ties with that quote “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
But luckily, this episode of Doctor Who offered a sense of closure: what if the artist or writer discovered that they were never failures and that everything they’ve done in their lives, everything they’ve created was being celebrated: