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MESSAGE TO THE MODERN ARTIST by Rob Will
“Brave is he who knows fear but conquers fear, who sees the abyss, but with pride. Who sees that abyss but with the eyes of an eagle; who grasps the abyss with the talons of an eagle—that man has courage.” —Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Artists like Neitzsche, right? You know, Friedrich Nietzsche the German philosopher who wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil and so forth and so on. I mean all really interesting people post-Nietzsche love Nietzsche—you have the literary artists (Kafka, Hesse, Gibran), musical artists (Strauss, Jim Morrison), artists of the mind (Jung, Freud, Huey P. Newton) and many more. I’m not all that fabulous but I happen to love Nietzsche, to me he is a soul-stirring saint, a mystical sage, and a visionary prophet.
So, yes, Nietzsche is an Artist for Artists and in one of his more obscure works written when he was younger he told a story about the classic Greek writer Diogenes. Do you know Diogenes? Hmm, well, it doesn’t matter because I’ve just decided to steal Nietzsche’s story about Diogenes, customize it, and make it into my story about Nietzsche. That’s what all of the great Artists of history have done anyway: steal stuff. Even gods and goddesses do it. Jesus shamelessly told the stories of Tammuz, Osiris and Dionysus and all Venus did was straight up steal the stories of Aphrodite, Ashtarte, Isis—so, I’m in good company.
Do you know about the Viennese cafés? I have a wildly brilliant friend who has lived in Vienna all of his life and he tells me about these places and has even sent me pictures of them. And, interestingly, I just read a book, Wittgenstein’s Nephew, by Thomas Bernhard, that speaks about the cafés. Bernhard admits that he has the Viennese Coffeehouse Disease. The condition: obsessive frequenting of these cafés where various artists, intellectuals, literati and musicians hang out discussing intellectual artistry and musical literature and such things.
There we find ourselves: rich dark wood paneling, plush ornately carved furniture, tables filled with wine and drink resting in intricate glasses, steins, bottles. Stacks of books piled next to them, ancient looking scrolls and manuscripts. Four a.m., and only the most seriously afflicted are still there engaging in debate. That bastard Descartes leaps up from a table waving his terribly pretentious hat, spilling champagne from the glass in his other hand and declares: “I know the greatest modern thinker and artist and [insert blabbering dualistic nonsense here]!”
From another table Plato nearly chokes on his wine—spilling it all over his beard—to agree: “Yes! Such a good and virtuous man whom I know as well and [insert pompous statist authoritarian moralistic asinine rhetoric here]! A string quartet plays some nice light music, soft, some slower Vivaldi. Schopenhauer casts a distasteful glance toward a dark corner table that seems to be overflowing with beautiful intelligent women—dressed in sultry long gothic lace gowns—who are engaged in dialectical discussion. One man sits with them, quiet, a brooding look across his brow…
I’m set to be executed soon. Terrible, unfathomably terrible, I know, but my people out there are letting battleaxes blaze to prevent this from happening. I’ve thought that if I get out of here I’ll really be forced to go to France if I was thinking of having an intimate relationship with a woman. But then I’m constantly bombarded with tales (and pictures!) of beautiful women from Germany. Well, of course I’m still saving myself for Arundhati Roy, so…hell, I don’t know, but just imagine an international contingent of beautiful, artistic Vampire chicks (because Vampire chicks are hot) laughing, debating, drinking, and not paying much attention to anyone but themselves and their male companion at the corner table. And there he sits quietly whispering a few words every so often. Glasses and bottles clink and clang as all others toast to this great philosopher and artist who most everyone is so enamored with.
“A good man!” someone declares with certainty.” “A just man!” cried Hobbes with delight. Nods and exclamations of agreement come from a table of “great masters.” This great artist-philosopher has won all of the popular awards. Someone from a table marked “U.S. Congressional delegation” remarks with boastful pride that our great man was recently a keynote speaker at a White House luncheon…
A while back I saw an interesting picture of the rapper L’il Wayne in a Hip Hop magazine. In the picture he’s sitting in a chair with a very serious brooding look on his face and he’s holding a HUGE Desert eagle 50-caliber pistol on his lap. These L’il Wayne lyrics came to mind: I’ve lost my mind/it’s somewhere out there stranded/I think you stand under me if you don’t understand it. And it’s like, fuck, this is quite serious, terribly serious: It’s L’il Wayne, the poet rapper with a gun, a really BIG gun and he’s just sitting there staring, shit…
Back to our Viennese café: “the greatest of great modern men! Such a moral man!—has arrived!” declares a university professor with fanboy glee. The Vivaldi stops. A second s-s-s-scratches and an orchestral version of the star spangled banner plays as our good and just man enters the coffeehouse to a round of grand applause from all around (except the table in the dark corner). “Thank you! Thank you!” our great man triumphantly shouts. “Thank you! Thank you! And [insert egomaniacal, self-absorbed narcissistic self aggrandizing bombast here]!” S-s-s-scratch, the music stops and just as our great man is about to launch into the conclusion of his speech—
With lightning speed a scimitar blade slices through the air completely severing his head. His body drips to the floor to reveal: naked, young, beautiful, terrible—there stands Arundhati Roy, a live snake draped around her neck and waist; a golden serpent with ruby eyes fastened around her arm. She wears a necklace of skulls and in her right hand she holds the Truth that is her sword, its hilt shaped as an eagle with wings outstretched. Long black hair cascades down her body tracing the outer lines of her swollen breasts. In her left hand she holds our great man’s head that she has caught in mid air. A red diamond marks her forehead, the same bright scarlet of her full sensual lips. And all eyes go to those lips as her tongue slides across sharp fangs to part them. She raises her sword and with a slow deliberate seduction she licks the blood off of the blade from the hilt to the tip. And her penetrating Kohl-dark eyes stare.
“But, but, he was our great artist, our great philosopher, our great man,” whimpers a renowned critic of the day…Silence…And suddenly the quiet is shattered by the harsh metallic CLICK-CLACK of a weapon cocking—and all heads simultaneously jerk toward the dark corner in the back of the room. A table lamp flares higher and all else seems to go dark, only the figure sitting in the chair in front of the table is illuminated. He’s leaning slightly to the side, shoulders low, his head tilted forward. His right hand gripped tightly around the handle of the huge chrome 5o-caliber Desert eagle resting on the lap of his dark grey suit. Pin drop silence. Fuck. It’s Nietzsche and he has a gun, a really BIG gun—and thus he speaks, his voice low, deep and deadly serious: “A great philosopher and artist? But how can he be great if he has yet to disturb anyone?”…
So this is my message for the modern Artist: Go out and disturb someone. I do it all the time but I never really mean to. My Art movement partner—yes, I do things like start Art movements here in this little Orwellian Hell—calls this my “Barbarism,” but I tell him he’s absolutely ridiculous and all I do is challenge norms and challenge others to question, to think, to pursue, to create. So, yes, go out and disturb someone, many people actually, but the first person you should disturb? Yourself. (Then the rest will come naturally.)