Friday, January 8, 2010

What Is An Artist?

I was recently in a discussion about what a "true artist" is. One of the others in the discussion insisted that a "true artist" has no business sense, and creates only what they need/are compelled to create, with no care for what other people think or what will sell. And was that once an artist takes into consideration what others might want, they are no longer a "true" artist.

I disagreed for a couple of reasons. First off I think this runs dangerously close to the idea that any artist who is commercially successful has sold out. And second, to label only one type of artist as a "true" artist is discriminatory. I would agree that an artist by definition will continue to create whether or not their work is sold. But, there is nothing wrong with hoping he or she connects with an audience and makes people happy with their work. And in doing so, actually grows creatively by helping to fine-tune their creative voice.

I am not suggesting an artist give up their own personal drive to create by following the latest art fad, or by copying someone else's work to be a success. I have found that most artists who do this, die a bit inside. And for the most part, their art dies as well, because they themselves do not know why they created a piece. Therefore, there is no emotion or feeling behind it, which translates into "dead" art. And as with all fads, doing work this way is generally not sustainable. Another fad will come along, and so keeping up with them can be exhausting.

I am also not suggesting that an artist create only what she/he thinks other people will want or approve of. Because again - this work will generally not resonate. Such art lacks the creative spirit, and emotion associated with art that has been created by someone who knows WHY they were compelled to create it. Art created out of a need for approval will not resonate with the audience, because in truth, it did not resonate with the artist when she/he was creating it.

However, I do think it is perfectly acceptable to fine-tune your voice as an artist by listening to what your audience has to say. This can help an artist better tell his or her story and share their vision. For example, I started painting male torsos after multiple requests for such. And I love this new direction. Creating with an audience in mind can also lead to new shifts in work that better resonate with your audience. I love doing commissions because I always learn from the additional points of view, and a good portion of the time my art will be enhanced by that experience. I have had completely new lines of work spring from a commission request. Always in a manner that I am excited about, but that also broadens the amount of people who are excited by my art.

We grew up in a culture that has told us since pre-k that "You can't make a living as an artist" that "Artists don't work" and that "Art is not a real job." So to put an additional restriction on an artist of "true" is burdensome. Anyone who has overcome listening to the many objections about their career path and fearlessly calls themselves an artist IS an artist. It doesn't matter if their work is "good" or "bad, " "successful", or "commercial." These are all outside labels. What matters is that an artist creates, that they follow their muse. And if, in the process, an artist also wants to connect with a wider audience, and allows in some way for that, it does not necessarily make for commercial art. It does not have to equate to loss of creative voice.

Finding and keeping our creative voice is a balance, and we each find our own. To call one person's form of balance wrong, and to declare there is only one true path, is not something I agree with. Especially in art.
For another look inside the making of art see In Line for An Art Show

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