Who is an “Artist”?

In our soci­ety, in com­mon par­lance, an “artist” is one who paints, whose “works” are framed and hung on a wall. Which is such a nar­row out­look that I find it detestable.

By def­i­n­i­tion, an artist is one who cre­ates art.

What is art? That is a top­ic I will not go into in this post. Is “art” restrict­ed to paint­ing? Art encom­pass­es a lot of human endeav­ors, and paint­ing just is one of them.

I find it incon­gru­ous that a musi­cian is intro­duced as a “com­pos­er”, an author is intro­duced as a “writer”, a fash­ion design­er is intro­duced as a “design­er”, a pho­tog­ra­ph­er intro­duced is as a “pho­tog­ra­ph­er”, while a painter is intro­duced as an “artist”. Why not a “painter”? What does it say about the epis­te­mol­o­gy humans have accept­ed that we define all oth­er artists by their pro­fes­sions except the painter?

This post is a response to “To Be Wor­thy Of Being An Artist

A per­son­al def­i­n­i­tion – the def­i­n­i­tion of an artist – is a com­bi­na­tion of (a) mod­esty, (b) arro­gance, and © real­i­ty.

First, def­i­n­i­tions can nev­er be per­son­al. When it is per­son­al, it is an inter­pre­ta­tion, not a def­i­n­i­tion. A def­i­n­i­tion is an objec­tive mean­ing of a con­cept, thus of a word, that should nev­er be per­son­al or sub­jec­tive. A def­i­n­i­tion ceas­es to be one when it is sub­jec­tive. An epis­te­mol­o­gy that accepts “per­son­al def­i­n­i­tions” is reflec­tive of Kant’s sub­jec­tivist, ambigu­ous, and grey philo­soph­i­cal doc­trine that many intel­lec­tu­als today, like for many decades in his­to­ry, have been tak­ing recourse to in the com­fort of com­plex­i­ty-of-thought-that-main­stream-audi­ences-will-agree-to-rather-than-debate.

The true artist is for­giv­ing. Encom­pass­ing. Lov­ing. Giv­ing. Embrac­ing. Joy­ous.

There are oth­er emo­tions that guide an artist: anger, cyn­i­cism, jeal­ousy, strife, decep­tion, trick­ery. For, if you would think of an artist as all things nice, you would be huge­ly mis­tak­en. But hate is not one of those. If hate is an emo­tion that guides, or even exists in your life, you are auto­mat­i­cal­ly not an artist.

Is an artist dis­tin­guished from oth­er human beings by tem­pera­ment? Do spe­cif­ic tem­pera­men­tal traits clas­si­fy some peo­ple as artists and exclude oth­ers?

Emo­tion is the well­spring of all art. To enu­mer­ate which of those guide an artist and which don’t, is an exer­cise in futil­i­ty and mis­tak­en in its ini­tial pre­sump­tion.

The entire soup-bowl of human emo­tions (minus hate) is the palette of the true artist.

Why sin­gle out and exclude hate? Hate can inspire great com­po­si­tion, ter­rif­ic writ­ing, and amaz­ing paint­ing too.

Panchgani 053

To con­tin­ue my respons­es to this irra­tional, incon­gru­ous post:

The con­text of an artist is very dif­fer­ent from the way you and I see things. Artists are magi­cians. They trans­port us to worlds pre­vi­ous­ly unknown.

Which is what many pho­tog­ra­phers do, includ­ing those like you, who con­duct MOOCs about that art.

I am not one of them. I thank you dear friend, for call­ing me an artist. I respect­ful­ly decline. Some­day I might prove that you were right.

What is hap­pen­ing here? You include a fan­tas­tic pho­to­graph in your post that any­one would call artis­tic, and then demon­strate the mod­esty you claim is a) the per­son­al def­i­n­i­tion of an artist?

The one thing you need to be an artist, is skill.

Was the artist who archi­tect­ed the Taj Mahal an artist? Or the Konark Sun Tem­ple? Did the artist have the skill to exe­cute his/her vision? What about the work­ers who built the Taj Mahal or the Konark Sun Tem­ple? Hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers toil­ing to cre­ate a mas­ter­piece. Were they artists? These are dif­fi­cult ques­tions in the con­text of art.

No, they were not, they were arti­sans.

If one has arti­sans who have the skill but who do not have the artis­tic cre­ativ­i­ty, why does an artist need skill? Artis­tic skill can be out­sourced. Artis­tic cre­ativ­i­ty can­not.

Per­haps the most intrigu­ing exam­ple of the chal­lenges this top­ic rais­es lies in West­ern Clas­si­cal Music. While we gen­er­al­ly con­sid­er the orig­i­nal com­pos­er as an artist, what about the indi­vid­ual musi­cian in the 60-odd orches­tra who is just one of the dozen vio­lin­ists? Is she an artist or just an arti­san? What about the con­duc­tor who inter­prets the work of the com­pos­er and directs the orches­tra to cre­ate a ren­di­tion of the work that is unique and dif­fer­ent than oth­er ren­di­tions of the same work? Is the con­duc­tor an artist?

I think we need a care­ful rethink of who is an artist and who is not. Mean­while, I have no doubt that the author of the post that inspired this one, is one of the most cre­ative artists I have had the priv­i­lege to know, and whose cre­ative works inspire many.

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