Friday, April 1, 2016
What Makes An Artist?
As an artist who has begun to grow my sphere of influence, I've recently joined a host of social media groups that aim to foster community and a supportive network for artists, both established and emerging. I've met a lot of inspiring individuals, experienced requisite moments of doubt upon discovering the work of artists who have a style similar to my own but are clearly more advanced in their technique, and have been generally blown away by the flood of creativity and skill that fills my screen each time I log in and explore what's going on with my fellow creators. I've also managed to get involved in a perplexing "debate" about the merits of Art, the Artist, and how lines can be drawn that define these frankly subjective issues.
For the most part, there seem to be two main camps in this debate: supportive, encouraging idealists who smile dreamily and claim that anyone who puts pen to paper, brush to canvas, or otherwise creates is an Artist, capital A; and pragmatic realists who state that one is only an Artist inasmuch as their Art is a primary source of income that pays the bills. I find both of these views problematic in their reliance on a polemic dichotomy so imprecise that it leaves many of us out in the cold, wondering where we fit in.
This is certainly not a new debate, but a satisfying, uniform answer remains elusive. If "making a living" off of one's art is the deciding litmus test separating the Artist from the hobbyist, then Richard Prince (famous of late for selling blown-up prints of other individual's Instagram portraits for upwards of $90,000, all while providing neither credit nor financial remuneration to the original creator) is a better artist than Van Gogh, who famously sold but one painting during his lifetime. At the same time, if "everyone is an Artist," as some have naively suggested, then there is really no criteria by which we can objectively evaluate art, and success can be seen as the result of nothing more than sheer luck or business acumen. I bristle at both of these ideas, and I don't think I'm alone in that.
First and foremost, I think the Artist is an individual whose driving motivation in life is the expression of ideas and/or emotions through the venue of art, whichever medium that venue might take. There are artists working on MFAs, as well as artists working deathly boring day jobs; there are artists hawking their art for whatever they can make on the street and artists selling gigantic canvases for tens of thousands in flashy New York galleries. Sometimes individuals cross from one of these territories to the next; Jean-Michel Basquiat comes immediately to mind, going from his SAMO street art days to seemingly overnight fame after the discovery of his effusive talent coincided with and was exploited by the financial trend of 1980's art market speculation.
It is possible for an artist to die rich and famous just as it is possible for an artist to die penniless and unnoticed. Fame, finances, and other materialistic criteria do not communicate any truth about the value of the art or the artist. These are the questions we must decide for ourselves, and if current social media debates are any indication, these questions are hotly contested within the community at large. In closing, I ask my readers: what criteria do you use to define the term Artist? I welcome commentary from any camp; but please try to remain on topic and keep the commentary constructive. Let's refrain from attacking each other; that is energy better spent on advancing our art.