“All culture is extra,” explains David Bowie, “We should just be content with picking nuts… not mine, I might add!” Culture may well be an extra, but it is an extra that often steals the lead role. Through culture, humanity’s narrative is traced and preserved; as Frida Kahlo once said, “I paint flowers so they will not die.” The inexorable impact that Bowie made on contemporary culture is absolutely undeniable.
So much so, that it is possible to argue that Bowie shaped the modern world we live in (and this can’t be held against him) to an extent, something that very few others have achieved. As one of his great literary inspirations, William S. Burroughs put it, “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”
Bowie is one of those people who could only ever be an artist. It seems simply unthinkable to imagine him in any other guise. To picture the Starman in a more socially conventional vocation is an act in meddling with the impossible, like trying to think up a new colour. If Bowie showed up to fix your internet, spouting off drivel about negotiating with the cyber fairies to suck some internet right out of the stratosphere, then you’d most likely sense some surreal rouse was on the cards. His views on the inner constitution of an artist, therefore, are perhaps all the more noteworthy.
In 1998 Bowie sat down with renowned interviewer Charlie Rose and discussed precisely what he believed makes an artist tick and what defines that artist.
Bowie had always painted alongside his creative projects as a way of “working through musical problems by painting them out,” but for a long time had been very coy about documenting his work. However, around the time of the interview, he had launched a website displaying many of his best pieces.
Bowie described painting as a process that was all about “finishing it so I can get on to something else. I can’t really say I enjoy the process,” he added in a typically humorous fashion, “It’s not like sex.”
When pressed on exactly what he thought makes an artist want to create, Bowie mused: “I’ve often wondered if being an artist in any way, any nature, is often a sign of a social (sic) dysfunctionalism anyway.”
He elucidated this point which places the artist as an outsider even further by adding, “It’s an extraordinary thing to want to do, to express yourself in such rarified terms. I think its a looney thing to want to do.”
Art, Bowie concludes, displays “the irrational side of man.” If that is the case, Bowie, being one of the most profuse creative forces of modern times, must be one of the most gloriously irrational people of all time. Such was his love for art – a chunk of his private collection fetched around £33 million in 2016 following his death – I’m quite sure that is a tag he would have adored.
You can see the discussion in full in the video, below.