Thursday, January 10, 2013

Artists vs. Non-Artists

I consider myself an artist.  But whenever I start to talk about ‘artists’ apart from the I-mess-with-paint definition, people start to get uncomfortable.  The term ‘artist’ in this culture carries with it a picture of elitism and snobbishness.  This is because most artists tend to be elitists and snobs, and take great pleasure in corrupting the next generation of artists with the same we-are-special beliefs.  But I believe the artists have done a great disservice to their own name.  The word ‘artist’ used in the abstract is a useful term, and I for one would like to be able to use it without sounding condescending. 

So, for the record, here is my view of artists and their place in the human race.

Artists are not better than other people.  In fact, they are frequently much worse, since by adopting the vaunted label of ‘artist’ many artistically-inclined people feel they now have permission to let all their vices run wild – particularly pride, which is the most odious of all the vices. 

Artists do have a special understanding of beauty and creativity.  But while that may be our blessing, we are constantly dogged by our curses.  We have great gifts, but we also have such great weaknesses. 

And isn’t that the story of everyone? 

No one has yet mastered the trick of being a complete and perfect human being.  When we are born there is written on our souls somewhere a list of all the things we could be and do, all the ways in which we can be human, all the fascinatingly beautiful things that make life worth living.  But as we grow, we grow lopsided.  I think that’s part of the curse – some things that others find hard will come to us naturally, and some things that to others are easy will, inevitably, be painfully difficult for us.  We can pour ourselves into one thing or many things, but there will never be enough time, energy, and talent for us to grow strong in everything.  

However, that means we all have things we can teach each other.  Yes, we have our great leaders, great scientists and explorers, great organizers, great teachers, great husbands and wives and parents, great healers, great counselors, great artists* – people who have pursued their gifts to the fullest.  But regardless of our gifts, each of us should try, in our own ways, to learn to explore, to teach, to organize, to counsel, to heal, to lead, to create.  When we stretch ourselves in the things that don’t come naturally, we discover more ways to live.  In a sense, we become more human.

An artist, then, is one who teaches beauty and creativity, because that is his gift and that is what he has to give.  A wise artist must guard the truth that creativity is for everyone, that no one has a monopoly on beauty, that these things are a part of being human that should not be fenced off by elitism.  And an artist must remain humble before those who have strengths where he has weaknesses -- which is everyone, really -- and always be willing to learn more about the mystery of living. 

*I mean these outside the strict occupational definitions of the words.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: Resolution Showcase

I'm having trouble cutting my list of resolutions down to 13.  (You know, 13 for 2013?  Well, yes, maybe a little cheesy...)

So, instead of fighting with it, I'm just going to showcase the resolutions that I'm most excited about!

1. Write 50 blog posts.  Blogging more is forever on my list of things I would love to do if I had more time and motivation.  No surprise there, right?  However, this year I decided to add a number to it.  50 posts a year averages out to about one post a week, which is very doable...and it's a small enough goal that if I get to the end of October and find I haven't posted all year, I can probably still make it.

2. Keep a reading journal.  In 2011, I read 53 books.  In 2012, I read 25 books.  Now, the reason for the drastic difference in the number of books read between the two years, besides the fact that 2012 ended up being one of the most eventful years of my life, was that I was dismayed at how much I failed to retain from the books I read in 2011.  As I look through the list of those 53 books, I found an alarming number that I feel I need to reread, simply because I remember that they were good and not much else.  Yesterday, though, one of my dear friends suggested I start a reading journal.  She said that if you respond to what you're reading, either in the margins of the book or in another notebook, you retain so much more.  I need this -- not so much for the fiction I read, but definitely for the nonfiction.

And along those same lines...

3. Form a reading habit.  I've noticed there seem to be two types of readers: those like me who read randomly, whenever they feel like it, and those who read consistently at a certain time of day (typically every night before bed).  I've noticed over the years that readers like me don't seem to read as much as they transition into adulthood, while the consistent readers continue to consume books regularly and don't seem to be hindered as much by an adult schedule.  I want reading to be a life-long habit, so I'll see if I can adopt the every-night-before-bed method.

4. Draw a little something every day.  This Christmas, most of my gifts to relatives were handmade bookmarks.  I had originally intended to do mini collages out of magazine clippings, but in the end I drew all the pictures I used.  And I discovered, much to my surprise, that I can draw much better than I think I can -- all I need to do is try.  Before Christmas, I would never have thought I could draw an elephant or a cocker spaniel.  But now I know better, and I believe I need to spend some serious time growing this skill.  Even if it's nothing more than a random doodle, I need to put pen to paper every day and keep the artist awake.

5. Journal consistently.  Much like #1 and #2, only more private and more me and much more random.

6. Write 10,000 words every month (for a total of roughly 120,000 words at the end of the year).  Not quite sure about this one yet.  It sounds pretty ambitious.  But at the same time, I NEED to write more, and 350 words per day really isn't bad.  These words don't have to all be fiction, either.  I want to write more about art, cultural and moral issues, personal reflections, and other things.

I am really excited for the chance to pursue all these things this year.  And the best news is, I can start now!  So, I'm off to read and journal and write and draw (maybe all at once).