When the American contemporary artist Chuck Close was asked upon which muses he depended to heighten his creative juices, he answered (and, I paraphrase): “Esoteric musings are for amateurs, the rest of us just get to work.”
Once again, I will not dare answer this question without first explaining the premise upon which my comments are formulated - being as they speak to a topic based on an extremely common presumption that art can be made at all. Basically, I don't believe we drawers, painters, sculptors, dancers, writers etc. create "art". Such an assertion would, at its most arrogant, elevate us (elevate ourselves?) to the pantheon of the gods, to which we humans definitely are not and never will be anointed.
Speaking to the title of this blog, we "creatives" are simply makers of things, physical objects, articles, commodities, which sometimes can be called "artworks" - i.e.: buyable, rentable. sellable, sharable "things" whose main purpose is not necessarily to be beautiful but, hopefully, well created, or, at their very best, beautifully rendered.
(For all intents and purposes, an artwork is the thing we buy from a gallery, agent or auction to hang on our walls or sit atop a pedestal. It's what we show off to those who come over for dinner. Art, on the other hand, is what emerges from that made object once everyone is gone and we are left alone to be deeply touched by the wonders that this art from within bestows upon us.)
The goal of any artwork is to be a worthy vessel - a holder of something enigmatic, a mystery, a mystical, a sensual life source which, in the right circumstances - emerges before a viewer open to receiving it - i.e.: someone ready to be touched, and moved, and mesmerized by what they discover in an artwork. Therein lies the difference between artworks and art. Essentially, artworks are objects, commodities. They have a price. Art, on the other hand, is not a "thing". It is essentially a mystery and, as such, is therefore priceless. It freely belongs to any and all beings open to receiving it - whether they are the owner of the object or not.
That being said, Let's get back to the main question:
I sometimes find it difficult to "see" visual arts as a professional activity in our times. In reality, it is more often than not a concoction of art supply cum arts & crafts shops. (Try and get any professional supplies from a shop these days... It's easier and faster to get what you want online since there aren't enough of us working full time at this game to make it worthwhile for shops to handle our needs.) In effect, most art material stores are now simply arts and craft shops displaying colouring books and sparkly things.
Oddly, the reason for the belittling of the acts of drawing, painting and sculpting, etc. often lies in the illusions "created" around creativity - that is: associating it with a title and status which implies practitioners are different than, or worse... better than others... i.e.: "I am an artist and you're not...", I'm sensitive and you are...uhm.... less so." In this, we who believe there is a higher calling beyond craft and skills, appear to have become our own worst enemies - especially when "others" question whether we "artists" actually "work".... Oh, how angry we get when those "others" see us as nothing more than "pretending to be "be-ers of art". Or is the assumption factually true?
Such is the fate of a self-selected identity system. In these contemporary times, being an artist is not necessarily a position, activity or recognition of excellence. It's simply a title and status chosen by the wearer. Over the past 100 years, it has increasingly become more of a something we simply identify as "if we wish to", rather than something we aspire to practice and achieve through hard work and learning and excellence.
As there are no professional parameters defining the title "artist" today, everyone and anyone can simply choose to call themselves so. And, we do... Therein lies an issue.... Our expectation to be seen to be an artist comes with an unwritten proviso that others should also see us as such. This can be (and often is) problematic since, to be a bona fide practitioner in any duly recognized field, recipients or purchasers of our services must trust that they are getting the "goods" that they expect are worthy of their hard-earned coin.
Usually, professionals whose status is legally defined by law and standards can claim to "be" something "different" - i.e.: duly licensed and recognized by peers who are also duly licensed. But then, most oddly refer to themselves and and are subsequently recognized by what they "do" and not simply by "who they are" because they say so. Engineers, doctors, mechanics, officers of the law, teachers, electricians, and any and all professional labourers are not called so for status - though their recognized expertise awards them a certain amount of earned deference.
Naturally, their titles are not defined by themselves but by institutional accreditation and/or recognition by a professional body and the exercise of their qualified skills within an environment which can both determine the excellence of what they "do" or duly reject their product as universally not up to par. To be noted... we all are hard pressed to find any quality artwork or teaching online or even in some of the schools said to be "art schools". Populist areas of display and promotion are not out there to be the best. Their goal is simply to convince us all that they are - whether that is factually true or not. The premise is, that we can be whatever it is we want to be, because we have been taught that this is a fact.
We all know the story of Margaret Atwood at a party... Being a famous novelist and poet she attracts a lot of attention. But she is not as well known to some as she is to others. At the time of a gathering, a prominent neuro-surgeon asked what she did for a living.. After telling him her story, he beamed from ear to ear as he told her that when he retired he was becoming a writer. Without missing a beat, Atwood responded with equal enthusiasm: "Isn't that fascinating! I've decided that when I retire I am going to do neuro-surgery.".........
The only thing worse than the title artist being stolen by individuals who factually are not, (and possibly never will be what they profess to already), is the theft of the title and status of "teacher".
Once, one of the most, if not the most revered of professions, today it has lost much of its luster. Education in the 21st century is less respected as a valuable asset than it was in past decades and centuries. And so, teacher becomes anyone who can sell themselves as such to a gullible public where millions of sham offerings are promoted alongside a few thousand legitimate services.
Teacher... Now, that title is too often coupled with the title artist, and what we have is a quasi total destruction of the skill set acquisition services to present and future generations. When we add online "services" to the fray, via suped-up websites pretending to be professional, and what we have is a serious downturn in the capacities being sold as valid, in a world which has no idea what skill sets are and what is required for a talent to flourish. It is quasi impossible to decipher which are honest accreditation services and those which are basically valueless, "influencer-based" offerings.
Titles, status and "us"...
Being an "artist" has become "special" not because it still is but rather because it is up for grabs by every Tom, Dick and Harriet. No longer seen to be the title and status of a valid profession, the belittling of it makes us all vulnerable to questioning we don't like. When we show people who we purportedly are rather than focus them onto what we do, that title and status is open to questioning and that makes us take "personally" any comments made as a rejection "of us" rather than a critique of our work. When titles and status become more important than what we do, we are walking into a minefield of a "to be expected subjective analysis" of our person rather than a feel good or feel bad reaction to our work.
Whether we like it or not, the 20th and 21st centuries have thrown a wrench into the mix by incorporating "branding", "star quality" and "influencer status" into our quest for recognition. Even the prestige of the the most respected of professions: "teacher" is being used and abused by anyone and everyone seeking social media and personal status.
Being an artist in our times has become complicatedly foggy as “truth”... By choice, it has become a nebulous whatever title which describes "who we wish to be seen to be" rather than something which illustrates our qualifications or the wondrous work that we do. And there lies the rub.
Today, artist means everything and it means nothing. This conundrum was clarified for me when I long ago asked a child who was drawing “what he considered himself to be based on what he was doing”. He looked at me strangely and simply answered: "I am a boy and I'm drawing..." Children, not tainted by adult impositions, with no affectations whatsoever, are honest. They define themselves not as any more than they are and credibly see their worth in what they do and how well they do it. They don’t require a title or perceived higher calling like "artist". That's our adult need. We can learn a lot from this most mature crowd we call "innocent children"... From birth, they already seem to be aware that it is not who we pretend to "be" but rather what we "do" which honestly defines who we are.
That isn't to say that I refuse the title of artist when it is awarded to me. It's a wonderful compliment, even from someone who pleads they know nothing about "art". But I long ago have abandoned using the title. I like to think that artwork making is a "labour" of love. And so, it is work. And the blessing I get is in that work which offers me more than I could have ever hoped for - viewers mesmerized by a piece I sometimes think is not as good as it could be. Therein lies our status - the work we do being appreciated by others. Without them, we are nobodies.
One last comment:
When I was a child, my talented mechanic father taught me that we earn not only money from our work but respect for the fine craftsmanship and excellence of rendition. He treated labour as a wondrous thing. And hoped I would also. I have never forgotten this. And proudly, I also remember that both of us throughout the years have had oil on our hands. The only difference? His was diesel, mine was alkyd.
Bernard Poulin. . .