Creative charlatans
Creative charlatans

A man once approached Picasso in a restaurant.

He said “I’m terribly sorry to disturb you but I’ve bought one of your paintings.

It’s unsigned and I wondered if I could ask you to verify whether it’s genuine.”

Picasso said “How much did you pay for the painting?”

The man said “Half a million pounds.”

Picasso said “It’s genuine.”

What I love about that is Picasso is part genius, part charlatan.

Or at least, that’s how it looks.

In truth, what looks like a charlatan is simply relegating what other people take seriously to mere triviality.

Refusing to be restricted by conventional thinking.

Finding it funny in fact.

Enjoying the fact that every time you outrage conventional thinking it’s another sign that you’re on the right track.

Because the people you’re outraging are exactly the people you don’t want to be like.

To them, the rejection of conventional thinking and values looks like the behaviour of a charlatan.

Picasso said “Taste is the enemy of creativity.”

By this he means taste is something we can all see and agree on.

It obeys the standards we recognise.

So we’re comfortable with it.

Consequently it can’t be new, it can’t be creative.

Recognising this allowed Picasso to ignore all the vilification he received.

He didn’t worry when people looked at his paintings and said “My five year old child can paint better than that.”

The fact that philistines rejected him was an endorsement.

Two minuses make a plus.

So Picasso didn’t care.

In fact he cultivated the link between creativity and perceived charlatanism.

That’s why he said “Bad artists copy, great artists steal.”

Meaning someone who feels bad about being influenced will never do anything truly great.

They’ll be too busy worrying about it.

Denying it and trying to hide it.

But an artist who goes through life taking whatever they want from wherever they want will build up momentum.

Before there’s even time to worry about what they just did, they’re on to something else.

And Picasso stole from everywhere.

In the early days, Manet, Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh.

Later on Cezanne, Matisse, Giacometti, African art.

This is illustrated by a joke David Bailey once told me.

Q) “What did Picasso say when he heard Braque had died?”

A) “Phew.”

Similar to Picasso was Andy Warhol.

This is a man who raised charlatanism to an art form.

To accuse him of being a charlatan would have been like accusing him of using a paintbrush.

Outrage was his medium.

Warhol said “Art is whatever you can get away with.”

To be proud of being a charlatan is a very powerful position.

You have no fear of being found out.

Warhol famously said he loved things that were dull.

He said he adored the trivial and flashy.

He said he loved money.

He said he loved fame.

When critics tried to expose Warhol they did his job for him.

They’d say his paintings were flashy and trivial.

Warhol agreed “Thank you so much. I adore the flashy and the trivial.”

When they accused his art of being superficial rubbish.

Warhol was flattered “I am deeply superficial.”

Warhol understood that if you occupy the ground first, any criticism merely makes your point better.

Like the original Volkswagen ads.

The very first ad DDB did for it simply said “Lemon”.

Early copy even mentioned the fact that people called it ‘a pregnant roller-skate’.

They even changed the name of the car to ‘The Beetle’.

While everyone else was calling their cars ‘Mustangs’ and ‘Cougars’.

The truly creative understand the value of embracing charlatanism.

It means going beyond the fear of other people’s opinions.

Which, of course. looks exactly like charlatanism to them.

So if you want to outrage people you can’t expect their approval.

They won’t like it.

But, then again, isn’t that the whole point?

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