Willa Cather was seriously interested in the idea of what exactly makes a person a true artist. Her short stories including The Sculptor's Funeral revolve around this thesis as the author tries to unearth the true characteristics of a real artist. In her attempt to highlight the traits that makes an artist different from the rest of the herd, she examines the conflict between materialism and artistic aspirations that is the single most important factor affecting an artist's life and soul. " ... The story stands as one of Cather's most powerful treatments of the conflict between artistic ideals and materialistic value systems" (Arnold, 1077)
In this story, the author carefully highlights the true spirit of an artist in order to prove that without possessing such a spirit, the artist can ruin his own life thereby doing complete injustice to his artistic talents. Cather maintains that it is only when an artist accepts the fact that he would be misunderstood and that a larger majority of people wouldn't understand his passion for art, that he can rise above these considerations and achieve his artistic goals.
Cather makes it clear that conformity is the most dangerous force in the way of an artist, which must be defeated at all costs, or life of an artist ends in tragedy. Brown concurs: "The burden of 'The Sculptor's Funeral' is that even in death the artist cannot escape the harshness and hostility of his home surroundings where he is fated to be remembered as 'queer' because he never conformed, and because he fled to unfamiliar worlds undreamed of by his family and friends" (Brown 101).
The author achieves her purpose by creating two characters who are passionate about art with the only difference that one had the courage to leave the materialistic world while the other lacked such a spirit. As the result of this, Jim Laird becomes a tragic figure worthy of our pity while the Sculptor becomes a hero, a person we must look up to because he had the courage to follow his dreams without any monetary considerations. Cather believes that an artist shouldn't be concerned about monetary gains because his true purpose in life is to express himself through his art. Poupard asserts: "Cather's passionate idealism and her disdain for materialistic aspiration leave little doubt that, in her view, it was only perfection that should concern the true artist" (Poupard 91).
Henry Adams had similar views on the true character of an artist, which he presented in his autobiography Education of Henry Adams. Being a member of extremely affluent and powerful family, he knew how money was usually the ultimate criterion for measuring someone's…