There's a great series on BBC4 called 'What Do Artists Do All Day?" Short and sweet interviews with different artists, about their working methods and their lives. They have a good cross section of different kinds of artists and they've all been compelling. Norman Ackroyd, printmaking hero, showing total cavalier disregard for health and safety as he waves his cigarette around in the midst of highly flammable materials in the etching room. Cornelia Parker who endearingly can't seem to believe her luck that she makes her living doing this. (Must confess I skipped Polly Morgan's though. Taxidermy, meh.)
Most fascinating was Jack Vettriano. He is scorned by the art establishment and probably the most successful living British artist. I'm not sure why they scorn him so much, there's worse painters and much worse art about which is critically accepted. Maybe its appeal is too easy to understand. Pretty girls, pretty colours, nostalgia, kitsch. But not meant ironically at all.
One day in the the far distant future some hip young curator will rediscover him, write a monograph which repositions him and demonstrates how he was misunderstood and he will become fashionable for the first time. But he'll probably be long dead and unable to appreciate it. *
You felt sorry for him somehow despite his millions. He seemed hurt by the viciousness of the critics, and not able to understand just why people might not like his work. Loved by the public and forever shut out in the cold by the art world. He explained that he grew up in poverty in Fife and worked down a pit from age 16 and how it was hellish - it became blindingly clear what motivates him to paint this idealised, glamorous movie still world. Pure escapism.
There's a moving moment when he talks about how he went to see a Francis Bacon exhibition and had a moment of crisis and nearly gave up painting. "I just got this awful feeling that I was looking at a real artist..."
Francis Bacon is like the anti Jack Vettriano. Interestingly I think what makes him the subject of critic's scorn is his refusal to see or paint darkness or ugliness, to prettify things and present the world as this glossy, 2D graphic, Hallmark card. Some of the better paintings in this programme are self-portraits which seem to be more doubtful and human, more rough around the edges, and therefore better art. His journey from working class boy working down the pit to successful artist must be a riveting story, but it's not reflected in his work at all (and they missed a trick by not including any of it in the programme.)
* Parallels here with Lowry. Even the Tate curators seemed to want to distance themselves from him.