What is an Artist?

This isn’t meant to be one of those stupid metaphysical/abstract/fluffy questions. Affie mentioned something that I’ve been told before, and I listened to an interview the other day that was thought provoking, and the question is, again:

What is an artist?

  • What qualifications are there to be called an artist? (i.e. perfectionism, quality of work, popularity, special insight, uniqueness, etc.)
  • What relationship with others (or lack thereof) is required to be considered an artist?
  • How must this person be perceived by the outside world?
  • Can an artist still be such in a vacuum? (i.e. is it dependent on the perceptions of others?)
  • What responsibility does an artist have to himself or to others?
  • What authority does he have in society?

These are obviously cross-media, which seems to be an appropriate term, meaning they can apply to the sculptor, the writer, photographer, painter, musician, underwater basket-weaver, composer, cubist, etc., and are not medium-specific. I have some specific thoughts on all of this, but will not be accused of leading the witness(es) (maybe that should be capitalized…)

People have certain perceptions about artists: names like Rockwell, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Ansel Adams, James Joyce, Beethoven, Picasso, Shakespeare, and such come to mind. Many of them had innumerable difficulties and struggles in their personal (or public) lives and were troubled. They had their own special perceptions of things, and did things a certain way, and this caused them to have a certain notoriety (or lack) in the public eye.

Certain muses, topics, or things like synesthesia are responsible for the way many people went about their craft. What causes one person to choose one medium over another?

Do writers, more than other people perceive inanimate objects to have personalities, and personify them, attributing them characteristics in an attempt to develop them? That kind of thing.

This isn’t an essay assignment, but I’m hoping some responses with a plethora of comments will get some conversation going. What do you think?


Affable Olive said...

I'll post on Monday when I have more time. You didn't ask all of these questions!

The Polyglot said...

I'm somewhat disappointed by the lack of response to this one. I was pretty interested in it. Must be because I didn't post for six and a half months before I posted this one and people just stopped reading...

Horse N. Buggy said...

OK, I think an artist has a driving need to create and does so no matter whether there is an audience or market for his work.

I am a photographer. But I don't necessarily consider myself an artist because of that skill. I am not inspired to create photos 100% of the time. I know that there are things that I want to capture, but for me it is more about observation than creation. (There are plenty of photographers who do "create" with their work.)

I think my desire to write a blog regardless of who is reading is more artistic than my photographic endeavors.

Artists create, entertain, perform for and move others with their work. But are they still artists if no one observes their work? A poet is still a poet even if they never let anyone read their work. A painter is still a painter, etc. So, yes. I think an artist is still an artist even if no one ever views their work.

As for quality... I know at least one painter who makes a decent living doing "primitive" art. To me, his work looks like what 4th graders do in art class. But people buy it. I don't get it AT ALL! But it is not for me to say that he's not an artist.