I just realized that I saw yesterday exhibitions by or about two very different, but both very courageous men: Ai Weiwei and David Bowie. Bowie was not courageous when he started his career: he made a bold decision and went to Berlin, took a pause in performing and abandoned all his alter egos (like Ziggy or Thin White Duke).
Everyone knows Bowie’s groundbreaking rise to the music industry’s spotlights. He started with an alter ego called Major Tom, then became a star with Ziggy Stardust, the androgynous alien from outer space. He really seemed to be light-years (well, at least years) ahead of his time. At the beginning of the 70’s, when everyone else was growing their hair long, he cut his. He then created several alter ego characters that he used simultaneously during his career (Thin White Duke for example).
But these alter ego characters were actually consuming him, the artist, internally. In an interview shot in Berlin he says that he was restricted by his characters what to do or not do, as well as the public expectations towards his art. When leaving Los Angeles and while living in Switzerland, he was heavily addicted to drugs and mentally almost broken.
After the Berlin era, we did not see alter ego characters from Bowie anymore. He has admitted himself that he decided to become what he is for the first time in his career. From the beginning of his musical career he hadn’t been quite sure who he should be acting as, making music as, performing as. Was he Davy Jones, David Bowie, Ziggy, or someone else?
This realization hit me hard when visiting Martin-Gropius-Bau museum. Ai Weiwei is easily recognizable as “courageous”, but Bowie made the boldest decision at the height of his stardom. Everything that had made him famous: his roles, location in LA, he abandoned. He went to “exile” in Berlin, did some painting and kept a pause in performing. This kind of act could mean a musicians professional suicide. (Album Low 1977 received very bad criticism) He had to start a world-tour because financial issues on 1978.
However, Bowie made his come-back. His story is a great reminder to us all artists how we should not forget our selves and our true calling. The demons are multitude and everywhere, and sometimes fame and success are worse a fate to an artist than non-recognition.
To whom do you do your art, yourself and the spirit within, or the art markets?