25 October 2010

Working Artist Initiative::The Characteristics of an Artist

{Screen print from LoftyMornings on Etsy}

"An artist is a man who tries to express the inexpressible."
~Alvin Langdon Coburn, Photographer

The subject for this week's Working Artist Initiative (WAI) readings is the characteristics of an artist. And these readings, while quite dry and a bit inaccessible I thought, were a challenge to me. They bring up the image of an artist that is reinforced throughout history in a series of negative stereotypes.

Artists have always been the victim of viewpoints, good or bad. Seen as flighty, unfocused, self-absorbed and strange. Often reclusive or anti-social. Sometimes with a God complex or a fragile disposition. Prone to crazy outbursts, hearing voices or lack of personal hygiene.

If you consider yourself an artist, do you feel defined by these images?
Why do we continue to reinforce these stereotypes in popular culture?

I do consider myself an artist. This is a term that I didn't always embrace. I always thought of myself as someone with artistic tendencies, not an artist. But now that I have welcomed that title, I have to admit that I am not comfortable with the implications. I don't consider myself as more moody, less responsible or more fragile than the general population.

I might feel things more deeply, but that doesn mean that I am crazy. I might see things more acutely, but that doesn't mean that I am divine. I might forsake all other things to bring my art to life, but that doesn't mean I am unfocused.

I do not feel that you can pigeon-hole any single person or group of people by the actions or traits of a few. There are people of every persuasion, every profession that are tortured souls and that is not the domain of artists in the least. There are plenty of artists that I know who are stable, competent and self-aware. They are productive members of society, have loving families and even support themselves and the local economy by their art.

The one thing that I rail against is the idea that an artist cannot be serious. For I am very serious. How to convince others of that?

I view it as my obligation to conduct myself as professionally as possible in all manners dealing with my art. To be seen as someone who is trusted and dependable and giving. And I may be an artist, but that doesn't mean that I want to starve for it. So I work hard at making every single penny that I can, while also supporting other artists and artisans who make things with their own two hands.

From one of the readings...

"An artist is one who not only sees but is prepared to pay the price of acquiring the technical knowledge to express what he sees. An artistic person is one who has not enough art in him to make him work at the technique of art whereby he can express himself; he indulges in moods and tones and impressions. Consequently, there are more artistic people than there are artists. The same is true of poetry; there are many people with poetic notions, but very few poets. It is not enough for a man to feel the divine flame burning in him; unless he goes into the concentrated, slogging business of learning the technique of expression, his genius will be of no use to anyone."

~Oswald Chambers, writer

Interesting to me in this passage is that Chamber is saying you can have artistic or poetic tendencies, but unless you commit to making it your raison d'etre, your reason for being, you cannot be considered an artist or a poet. He goes on to state that if you do not honor that talent that is burgeoning within you, then you are "living an impoverished spiritual life." He perpetuates those negative connotations while looking down on those who are 'artistic.'

I think that there are all sorts of artists. And sometimes the practicality of life gets in the way of pursuing that quest. But does it mean that you are not really an artist if you aren't into the 'concentrated, slogging business' of being an artist?

I do agree that there is a 'divine flame burning' within each of us and it is our responsibility to honor those talents. I don't agree that just being artistic isn't enough. Sometimes it is. Sometimes that is all that you have to give. And expressing your creative tendencies, whether they manifest as poetry or baked goods or on canvasses, IS of great use to everyone. Self-expression is not the exclusive domain of those who have gone to school to learn the 'technical knowledge' of art or those who 'pay the price.' Not everyone is ready to recognize, believe in, or accept their artistic nature. Not everyone can financially pursue that passion and give all to their art. What would be worse to me is in not succumbing to your call to be creative in whatever way it manifests itself, for doing so denies you the pleasure of tapping into your divine nature.

And until you are ready to do that, to make it an integral part of who you are and work it into a life that you can live with, seeing the world through the lens of an artistic person is enough.

What do you think?
  • Do all artists share similar character traits? What are they?

  • Are artists different because of their calling or called to be different?

  • Is the stereotype a self-fulfilling prophesy or it that just the way things are? Can that be changed?

  • Do you believe that everyone has been given an artistic nature? or is that only the domain of a few?

  • Do you see yourself as an artist or an artistic person? Is there a difference?

Do tell!

Thanks for sharing the journey of this discussion with me as I try to make sense of it myself!

Here is what I accomplished this week on my plan of action:
  • Participated in the A.R.T.S. Night show (my one and only show of the year).

  • Produced two of the three prototypes for my jewelry line in progress.

  • Conducted informal market research with the patrons.

  • Found that the first one that I created was the more popular of the two.

  • Sold a few. And accepted some custom orders.
  • Decided that I am on the right track.
Enjoy the day!


Alice said...

You have a beautiful way with words, and have summed it all up nicely. It's sad the stereotypes are still in place, even though there is a surge in the 'Indie' movement, etsy etc.

I never thought about a difference between an artist and one who is artistic. I once read an article about the difference between a jewlery maker and a jewelry designer, and thought it odd. Don't those who make jewelry design the pieces, and should be considered jewelry designers? Maybe it is just a way for the really talented ones to remove themselves from those who are not on the same level.

In any case I don't believe that every artist should have the same level of passion and committment to their art in order to be considered an artist. But I do believe we should, to the best of our abilities, use the talents we were given.

Thanks for another thought provoking post!

Brandi Hussey said...

Truth? I can't stand the artist stereotype. Being an artist myself, I don't know how business people or scientists think. Are they as consumed as we are with our work? Do they stay awake at night dreaming up new projects? Maybe. If they are, then it's passion that connects all fields; some people have it, some people work for it, some people won't ever choose it, regardless of what people call themselves.

I do think artists are different, in a good way. Just in my family, I've noticed that I see things differently than anyone else does. They see what I see once I point it out to them, but not at first.

That being said, I just can't stand the artistic stereotype. I can't stand people immediately assuming I'm flighty or ditzy or unable to handle practical matters just because that's what they think artists are. It's like labeling all business people "stuffy"; it's just not always true.

One thing you said really stuck out to me:

"Self-expression is not the exclusive domain of those who have gone to school to learn the 'technical knowledge' of art or those who 'pay the price.'"

I totally agree with the first part. I think anyone who is passionate enough, driven enough, curious enough, will learn and explore the technical side of their craft. But as those who 'pay the price'...

I'm pretty convinced that ALL artists, regardless of skill level, medium, knowledge, pay the price. I think most artists will sacrifice to make art. The price may vary; it's not just money, but time and energy, too. It's choosing to stay in to save money that can go for art supplies. It's spending the day in the studio instead of your family. Sometimes, there is a choice, and sometimes art wins out. But really, who hasn't given up something to make art?

SummersStudio said...

Oh, I must admit that I honed in on the technique part of being an artist straight away. I think that has mostly to do with having spent nearly 20 years in ceramics and there are many technical issues. But I do think there is an element of learning the 'structure' of what you do as an artist that releases you to do art. I have seen so many poorly executed pieces of ceramic art that had so much potential to be wonderful. And I am not just talking about jewelry here.

I think jewelry, in particular, can suffer this. Not to be dismissive of all the wonderful pieces out there. But so many techniques are 'sold' to us through very commercial ventures without any thought to how you make art jewelry. I get a little discouraged about jewelry as an art form. Historically, you were a metal smith and that was it. But now you have so many techniques and products just handed to you, ready to use with very little thought except to make things that are popular.

Reading back on this, I sound like such a curmodgeon. That's not really me. I just think we need to put a little thought into what we are expressing. And really, I am quite guilty of not letting anyone know what thoughts go into creating the pieces I make.

stregata said...

I think the important thing is - how passionate you are about what you do. Be it "art" or something else. It is the passion and the intent that makes the difference between dabbling in something or really working at it. Everyone is creative (which I believe to be more to the point than artistic), it is just a matter of how we express that creativity that makes a difference.

Gardanne said...

My daughter's math tutor made a statement that has stuck with me. When my daughter was asking why math comes so easy to some people he said, " Some people look at a tree and see numbers, they see groupings of two, three, four, leaves, or how many branches are attached to the trunk. Someone else looks at that same tree and sees color, texture, contrasts, maybe even the sound the wind makes moving through the branches."
I do believe that looking at our world in a creative way comes more naturally for some of us, but that does not mean that looking at things differently can't be learned.

Pretty Things said...

I think of myself as artistic but not an artist. I strive to get there. I think I'll be there when I can look at my lampwork and go, "Yeah. That's the ticket." But I'm ok with that. Being artistic is cool!

As for an artistic personality -- I do feel like I have traits of the stereotypical personality, with a fair dose of exceptions to the rule. I'm definitely not Jackson Pollack or Sylvia Plath, but I understand the path they took.

I was not brought up to be creative. Not at ALL. So I suppose I believe that anyone can be artistic, given the right environment and nurturing. I can see that my seven year old son, given all the tools and opportunities, has an interesting artistic streak. Some people feel they don't have one, but then look at their homes -- they've decorated beautifully. So creativity can manifest itself in various ways.

For me, the learning never ends, and perhaps I'll never call myself an artist because I'll never feel like I'm done. And I'm ok with that, too. I just want to have fun with what I'm doing and be respected for it.

Marcie Abney Carroll said...

It took a while for me to consider myself an artist also, but I think the definition of artist needs to change to accomodate the world we live in now. I think the reason that artists in the past have gotten a reputation of being a little flighty and slightly crazy is that they were holed up in a studio while the rest of the world was going about their daily business.
Also, because the new artists rarely find patrons for their art, they have to go out into the world to market and share what they do.
I think the term artist is one that should apply to not only a person who has the gift, but does whatever they are capable of doing to develop it, even if it's only 2 or 3 hours a day.

JeannieK said...

I do believe we are all artistic, some just know how to cultivate it better than others.

I do think there is a big difference between an artist and a crafter.


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