Artists often start out in the proverbial rags, and most never make it to riches. I have read about Bob Dylan sleeping on couches of friends in New York City while playing in bars at night when he could get gigs, for months on end, going from one friend’s couch to another, when his welcome ran out.
There is the famous story of Sylvester Stallone. After he wrote the screenplay for Rocky, he began trying to sell it to many producers with enormous numbers of rejections. This went on for months. He was so poor by this time that he decided he had to sell his best friend, his dog. Stallone waited outside of a local liquor store asking people if they would buy his dog. Eventually someone bought the dog for around $50. He was devastated to have to do this.
As it turns out, both Dylan and Stallone had the talent, the perseverance, the vision, the dedication and the sheer indomitable will to keep trying after being beaten down over and over again, and both are household names now. They succeeded as artists.
For every Stallone or Dylan there are hundreds, thousands of artists that for some reason or other do not succeed, and we never hear about them.
About 100 years ago exactly, around 1910, there was a twenty-year-old artist sleeping on couches in Vienna, Austria. He had no formal education at all, not even the Austrian equivalent of high school. He liked to draw and paint, and dreamed of becoming a famous artist in the world art capital of Vienna. He applied for art schools and kept getting rejection after rejection. He was told he didn’t have the required talent to even get into art school, let alone be successful as an artist. He spent several years as a tramp in Vienna, begging for meals, mooching off friends that would have him, getting warmed up in coffee houses in the winter, reading German philosophers to spend his time. All the while dreaming of success as an artist.
What if Adolph Hitler had been accepted at one of the art schools he applied for? He would have had his quest, his success, in his work. He might never have been drawn into politics in tumultuous Europe at the time. World War II, which he started single-handedly, that ultimately is said to have caused the deaths of 62 million people worldwide, might not have happened.
My paternal grandparents lived in Breslau, Silesia (now inside Poland) before and through the war. When the Russians eventually closed in on Germany from the east, my grandmother with her five children, including my father nine years old at the time, grabbed what bags they could carry and started walking on foot westward in 1945 as refugees. They eventually ended up in the heart of Bavaria, near a small town where my mother had grown up.
Without World War II, my father would have been hundreds of miles away from my mother. They would never have met. I would never have been born. All I ever did and accomplished would never have happened. My children would not exist. This blog entry would not be written.
All because a nameless artist in Vienna in 1910 didn’t make it into art school and was left to live in the gutters.