To the manor born

Although it now predates any living memory, it’s a very recent Western notion that artists are unique and delicate snowflakes pursuing a vocation for the love of it. Historically artists were valued as craftsmen and artisans, on a par with carpenters or stonemasons. Being an artist was certainly better than being a peasant, but among the aristocratic classes for whom artists generally worked there was still a hint of the base or the vulgar clinging to anybody who got their hands dirty and needed to actually do anything for a living. Henri Rousseau, for example, was lambasted by the art establishment because he had the audacity to be self taught and to have worked solidly in the same relatively menial clerical job for about forty years before he took early retirement in order to pursue painting.

So there was a certain degree of inevitability in the…

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