I put this into Google and it thought I hadn’t finished the question. It tried to complete it with ‘successful’, ‘great’, ‘famous’, ‘genius’, ‘unique’ and even ‘a target’!
What I really wanted to know (and what I should have put into Google) was simply: what makes a person an artist? Is it the art, or the person? Is it what you create, or why you create it? Or is it simply THAT you create it. (Surely not – what about all those painting elephants etc?). Are you an artist if you create the art even when no-one is paying it any attention (like Van Gogh), as if the art is like something living inside you which is trying to tear its way out, whatever the consequences of exposure? Are you an artist if you just want to make something pretty – or does it have to be something with a ‘message’? Does it have to have an effect (positive or negative) on another person before it becomes art? So what about the cave paintings at Lascaux then? Weren’t they art before they were discovered in the 1940’s and shown to the world?
It’s an impossible question, I know, simply because it is so completely subjective. What is art to one person can be incomprehensible, or even pointless, to another. Even when presented with a list of some of the most famous painters, people will say things like, ‘No, I don’t like Mondrian. But Cezanne is nice.’ Or ‘I only like Monet’s water lillies, not all the earlier stuff when he could see what he was doing.’ So we often can’t agree even on the body of work of one artist, let alone different schools or styles of painting.
It’s not all about painting though, is it? There is art in nearly everything – theatre, film, literature, design, presentation. Although possibly not in plumbing. Having said that, Duchamp’s urinal installation, Fountain, was art, and it did definitely have an effect on those who first viewed it in an exhibition – not a particularly positive effect, it’s true. The board of the exhibition at first refused to exhibit it, but the artist resigned in protest as the board was obliged to accept all submissions from members. One of the points about Fountain is that the artist influences the thoughts of others and the way in which objects are viewed and considered. If someone we accept as being an artist says it is art, we are more likely to look at an object or a picture or an idea in a more open way, to try to move past the limitations we automatically impose on the subject and to adopt the mindset of the artist – to free ourselves from the constraints of the every day view and to look at things with a fresh eye.
As you can tell from the title of this blog, I live with an artist. Calling him the Painter (and me the Painter’s Wife) is in itself very limiting. My partner, Colin Bailey, is in fact primarily an etcher. He creates wonderful works on copper plate, which are then printed off on an old fashioned press. He uses the same techniques that Rembrandt used, and many of the same materials. He is talented, clever, adaptable, original and, most definitely, an artist.
However, I believe he is an artist not because he makes his living by producing art and selling it to the public, and not because of his incredible skill and technical ability, but because of his mindset. He will find a truly creative solution to almost any problem we encounter.
And that, in the end, is what I believe makes someone an artist – being in possession (and sometimes even control of) a creative, problem solving mind!
Here’s a little example of his work.
And here is a link to his website: www.ryepress.com
So what do you think? Is everything art? Or is it only for the rarified few? Do you have to be an artist to produce art, or does producing art make you an artist? What if you only ever do one good thing, are you still an artist then? If you only write one novel, but it’s a work of sheer brilliance, are you a writer for ever? Or does an artistic licence have an expiry date?