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Artists’ struggles, past and present 

Throughout history, the comings and goings of man, the foibles and the successes, have been documented through art. One need only to survey the music of the decades to witness the changing times as lyrics express the social conscience and mood of their era. Visual artwork, as well, reflects the state of the world in the presence of light or darkness in the work, often mirroring the hearts of the people at the time. 

Creator and host of Lexington’s WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour Michael Johnathon bemoans the struggle artists face in an ever-increasing digital world of free downloads and cancel culture, and draws a parallel to the struggles faced by history’s best-known artists in WoodSongs 5: A Folksinger’s Compendium & Van Gogh Reader

Focusing specifically on Vincent Van Gogh’s tortured life, Johnathon infuses stories of the likes of Rembrandt, Thoreau, Gauguin and Michelangelo as well as modern day “creatives” such as John Denver, Bob Ross and Sammy Davis Jr. Though all are viewed as wildly successful now, they did not begin their careers on a positive note. Many of the artists Johnathon features never knew success in their lifetimes, with their work gaining fame only after their death. 

Johnathon ponders the reaction Van Gogh would have today upon learning that his original paintings bring millions of dollars at auction. In his lifetime, he literally couldn’t give them away; when he tried to gift a painting to artist friends, they didn’t want it. Galleries turned him away; critics laughed at his lack of professionalism. He was considered a farce by the art world and managed to sell only one painting before his death. Plagued by mental health issues, he was deemed a danger to society just prior to the end of his short life. He considered himself a failure saying, “I will never amount to anything as an artist, I just know it.” 

In a time when folks are all too quick and judgmental in criticizing others’ views and opinions, Johnathon reminds readers of the importance of art, calling artists the “greatest peacekeeping force in the history of mankind.” He explains that art requires people to stop, stand quietly and listen— that arguing and fighting cease when this happens. He encourages readers to return to the days of front porch stages when families visited with neighbors, shared a treat, or picked a banjo and sang a tune. 

Included with the book is Johnathon’s CD, The Painter, with songs about art, music, love and life. 

Michael Johnathon has written four other books, released 17 albums, wrote a play and an opera, and organized SongFarmers, a national association of front porch musicians. WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour draws over 2 million listeners each week on public radio and television stations nationwide from its Lexington home base. In 2020, Johnathon was selected by Gov. Andy Beshear to receive the Milner Award for outstanding contributions to the arts—the most prestigious of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. Learn more at, where the WoodSongs 5 book can be ordered. 

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