The Artist at Work

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"The Artist at Work" (Jonas, ou l'artiste au travail) is a short story by the French writer Albert Camus from Exile and the Kingdom (L'Exil et le royaume).

Synopsis[edit]

An artist who has had a poor and unnoticed career suddenly gains a patron, and then a show in a good gallery. He receives good notices for his work. He has finally gained the recognition he has felt for years that he deserved. But within weeks, he finds himself besieged by hangers-on, advice seekers, fans, would-be lovers, new friends and critics. There is also no shortage of other well-known artists who offer their advice on how Jonas should proceed in his career.

Thus besieged, which he had wanted through decades of failed efforts as an artist, Jonas begins a terrible retreat that lasts for months, first moving his studio behind a curtain, then into the bedroom, then behind a curtain in the bedroom, then into the bathroom, and then finally onto a platform hoisted above a hallway where Jonas claims that he's at work on a canvas. But, because of the height and darkness of the hallway, no one can see the painting nor can they get him to come down for meals, which Jonas's wife, Louise, hoists up to him.

He stays there for weeks. Louise and Rateau (his devoted friend who is the only one who still visits) grow weary. Finally after becoming quite frail, Jonas decides he is finished painting. He hears the laughter from his Jubi and Vanessa, a sound he hasn't heard in quite some time. He comes downstairs- heart filled with gratitude and faints.

Upon news from the doctor that he will be well soon, Camus tells us of Jonas's final work. A blank canvas with a word that can be made out "but without any certainty as to whether it should be read solidary or solitary. In a recent translation of this story the words are "independent" or "interdependent", which cannot be discerned for certain.

Themes[edit]

This is a humorous story, and it must be understood that Camus is poking fun here. First is the artist's idea that everything good that comes his way is because of his "star." Thus, the artist refuses to accept any credit or control over what happens to him. Unfortunately, this means he also does not question anything that happens to him.

The bulk of the story is taken up with an exaggerated scenario of "friends,' disciples and critics. The harm all of these cause to the hero becomes extremely obvious.