We Are Not All Artists

8 Jul

Last Light in Zion, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

This post was initially printed in Epoch Times, New York City edition, Art & Entertainment section

Part of my job as manager for my husband, the Norwegian Artist, is to attend artist receptions and check out the quality of the cheese and crackers.

Inevitably, as I am chatting with people (after I have chewed and swallowed, of course), the question of whether or not I, too, am an artist comes up.

“No,” I generally respond. “I am a writer.”

“Well that’s an artist!” the listener effuses. “You are an artist of words.”

Because I have a policy of not arguing with potential clients, I do not respond by saying,

“No, I’m a writer.”

The beauty of the word “writer” to describe myself is that it employs one word, instead of three, to say the same thing.

Another time, I mentioned that I am a knitter.

“Well there you go! You are an artist of fiber and integrated texture.”

I won’t even comment on this use of six words to not remotely convey the meaning of the one.

There’s something about the word “artist” that lends itself to being overused, over applied, and underappreciated.

Without offending anybody here, the primary meaning for the term is to describe someone who produces paintings, drawings, or sculptures as a profession or a hobby. I mean, think of it: when someone says “Quick! Name a famous artist!” do you honestly blurt out ”Leonardo Dicaprio” (cinematographic performing artist), “George Strait” (rural-themed vocal artist), or “Jim Carey” (quick witted on-stage purveyor of verbal and physical humor artist) before Van Gogh, Renoir, or Michelangelo?

And is there anything so wrong with the terms “actor,” “country singer,” and “comedian”? They do, after all, clearly and succinctly convey what it is that these people do, and what they do is, indeed, a form of art, which brings us to the second, and secondary, meaning of the word “artist,” incorporating anyone who practices a variety of creative arts —  writing, dancing, acting, music.

And therein, as a 16th century theatrical playwright artist once wrote, lies the rub.

In the American effort to not offend anybody, we are reluctant to place limits on the discipline, to the point that we will not say that someone is not, really, an artist:

Politically or apolitically motivated urban visual artist: Bored teenager with a spray can and an empty wall.

Kinesthetic artist of intense, sustained movement: Aerobics instructor.

Culinary creator artist of three-dimensional, quantitatively edible material: Chef.

Numerically minded operator artist of mathematical figures and data: Accountant.

Or me.

I’m a knitter, a mother, a writer, a manager, a business owner, and a cat fanatic — and many of these I accomplish with artistic flair, but I am no more of an artist than I am a scientist, and I daresay the scientific community would be offended if I passed myself off as one of their own based upon my ability to combine baking soda and vinegar to make a cool mass of bubbles. It is a chemical reaction, after all.

And yet, it seems, anybody can be an artist, and indeed, everyone is.

“Tap into your inner artist!” children are told, without the corresponding advice to “Draw forth from your internal engineer! Connect deep to your natural microbiologist! Reach in and grab that calculus around your heart!”

Is it any wonder then, that when we speak of academic disciplines, we do not include drawing, painting, and sculpting? Why bother, since obviously everyone has the ability to do this without any training, learning, reading, practice, application, or effort? Our standards in this discipline have dropped so low that a person with zero drawing ability, no concept of perspective, no acquaintance with color, shading, shape or form, can copy other people’s images on a Xerox, paste them together, and call it visual art of an equal caliber to anything that da Vinci slapped out.

With this all inclusive attitude, it is difficult, then, for people to learn, or be willing, to judge art — to even admit that paintings or drawings or sculptures are good, bad, or in between based upon quantifiable and identifiable standards. We then find ourselves oohing and ahhing as much over a paint-splotched canvas created by an inebriated elephant as we do a thoughtfully constructed landscape by a human artist who has studied, and learned from, the many Masters before him.

Or worse, we extol the Elephant Art. Or Litterbox Sculptures by cats — my son gave me a book on this as a joke, but the sad thing is that the authors were serious.

Surely art — as in painting, drawing, and sculpture — is deeper and greater than randomness; than kitschy efforts to do something no one has thought of before, like leave the canvas blank; than clumps of cat poop and clay.

It is. And it is time that we start according art – and artists –the respect that they deserve.

Art is a discipline, a skill, and a passion – and not everyone is an artist.

Is that so very hard to accept?

Daybreak, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson


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