Tag Archives: artist

Artists & Creators

People often write to me, or talk with me, with a fixed idea of what it is to an artist. (I will leave the “no true artist” fallacy aside.) An artist is someone who creates art. Before we rush to the big question of what is art; what is it to create something and remember that not all creators are artists, there are many jobs that require creativity.

detail of Evangelos Sakaris, “Word and Way”, 2001

detail of Evangelos Sakaris, “Word and Way”, 2001

There is the eye, the breath and the hand of the creator.

The eyes, or ears in the case of musicians, process the world in a unique mind. Creativity starts in the mind. Eyes are especially important to photographers. The eye as an extension of the mind interprets the world. It selects, organises and focuses.

The breath or the word, written or spoken, of the artist is also important to the creative act. The breath is of critical importance to poets and writers in finding their ‘voice’ but there are other creative uses for the voice. The director is speaking to actors before they perform, so the voice is not heard by the audience. The visual artist may also be directing assistants. Visual artist’s word has always been there quietly declaring that a work is finished. For many centuries the word of visual artists was overlooked until Duchamp and the Dadaists brought it front and centre again.

The hand of the artist has often been written about. The hand of the artist has been praised especially with pen and ink drawing, where the hand is clearly visible. The hand of the artist is also evident in virtuoso musicians and by extension the whole body for actors and dancers. The signature is seen as the embodiment of the hand, but no one is claiming that one creations directly from the hand of the artist are valid art, demanding the read novels in the original handwritten manuscript or decrying all novels after the invention of the typewriter.

Not that all artists use the eye, the breath and the hand equally, different arts emphasise different attributes or combinations. To assume that one way of creating is the only true and correct way is a mistake. To assume that all artists must use their hands ignores all the other ways of creating. The great man doing it all himself is itself a macho idea and forgets that some visual artists can work mostly with their eye and breath.

Not all painters are artists. Discussing Betsy, a chimpanzee from the Baltimore Zoo that did some painting the philosopher George Dickie notes: “Betsy (the chimp) would not (I assume) be able to conceive of herself in such a way as to be a member of the art world and, hence, would not be able to confer the relevant status.”

To be an artist, an artist must have the idea that they are creating art, a word that is used to describe the creative output of artists. They have to learn to use this word in a society, to talk about it with thumping music playing in the room. To exhibit their art and have other people describe it as art. What exactly art is, or if this word has any meaning, is the subject of endless discussion, a discourse that in itself, defines art. (As Andy said, “Art, isn’t that a man’s name?”) Part of the problem with identifying what the word “art” means is that there have been multiple meanings in the last hundred years alone but that is another subject.


What kind of artist?

“People pay to see others believe in themselves.” – Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

What do expect an artist to be? What kind of artist do you want to be? How does this persona of a particular kind of correspond to your art? How does it influence the perception of others?

There are many models for an artist, musicians, writers and other creative geniuses and so many different examples to follow. None of these strategies are guaranteed to work and so much depends on whom you happen to know and when you happen to be born. We are going to have to separate the myths and stories from the truth… be-careful what you wish for. The truth is boring meetings, sitting at a desk writing proposals, working in the studio… lots of work, even a con man has to work at the con.

In the most ancient sense there the artist as psycho-pomp shaman who by ecstatically manipulating symbols attempts to heal the world, to drive out the evil spirits, to appease the familiar spirits and soothe the soul. If this is the case then question becomes is this shamanic artist a real magician or a fake manipulating the audience?

Do you expect the artist to be naturally gifted or even crippled in some way mentally or physically, attributes of shamanism in some societies? Do you want the artist to be in a romantic way in touch with an endless source of creativity? This source of creativity is often tied up with ideas of race and land or both and raises the questions about the politics of your beliefs in race and land.

Does an artist have to be a genius and if so what kind of genius? – an idiot savant or a mastermind? Do you expect an artist to be technically excellent craftsmen or is the unique expression behind the execution of the art more important? It is praise to call a tradesman a craftsman and it is praise to call a craftsman an artist.  But this hierarchy does not mean that the distinction between the practice (what the person does) and the product is always clear and distinct. Some contemporary craft has become conscious of itself as an art, pushing the definition of craft to the artistic limit and questioning the very distinction.

Do we expect the artist to do everything themselves and suffer the fate of the sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert who died suddenly exhausted from carrying the clay for his latest monumental sculpture. Or do we want artists to work with a team of curators, craftsmen, technicians and engineers in a list so long that if it were printed it would rival Hollywood movie credits?

Is the artist a loner or part of the in-crowd? Are they expected to be the court jester, King Lear’s all licensed fool, pleasing royalty by making jokes about them? Or a prophet in the wilderness?

There is the myth of the artist coming from nothing, the discovered by the art world and becoming an instant success (after twenty years of hard work). Does that mean that there is an oversupply of crypto artists, hidden geniuses waiting for eternity to be discovered? Or do you have to create your own fame like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi? Media manipulation in the art world is not new; John Martin was a 19th century painter and self-publicist who had blockbuster exhibitions. In the post-YBA era do you expect artists to be famous superstar (the word was coined by Ingrid Superstar one of Andy Warhol’s stars) or do you expect them to be starving in a garret (like La Bohemia)?

Crypto-artists, zombie artists…

The idea of the artist as an authentic individual who creates their own identity through their work – what does the world expect of an artist?


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