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.