Here’s a question you don’t want to ask at the dinner table: what is art? If you’re brave enough to throw that one into the soup, follow it up with this: who gets to be called an artist?
Yesterday Clint Watson began that discusson on his blog Fine Art Views. Clint wrote a thoughtful article about the potential impact of marketing guru Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin, and the way he’s used theÂ word “artist.”
Here’s a quote from an interview with Seth Godin, fromÂ gapingvoid:
“Artist doesnâ€™t mean painter or cartoonist or playwright. Artist means someone willing to stand up, stand out and make change.”
So far, so good. Then there’s this:
“…what do we call a customer service rep or an insurance adjuster or landscape architect that changes the game, that elevates each interaction and that takes enormous emotional and professional risk with their work? I think they need a name, so I stole one. I call them artists.”
Let’s be absolutely clear: I am not out to vilify Seth Godin. I subscribe to his blog, and I agree with most of his ideas. I think he overstepped by appropriating “artist,” I said so publicly, and I stand by that. I understand where he’s going with the concept. I just wish he’d chosen a different word.
Because it feels like another chapter in the tale of a very long siege.
You know the flaky artist stereotype. If you’re Canadian, you are well aware that during the last federal election campaign, our own Prime Minister tried to convince the electorate that artists are a bunch of freeloaders who whine about funding cuts while attending rich galas.
Would the PM pull that stunt on an ethnic or religious group? Not a chance. Artists? Sure, who cares?
(Note to politicians: never take a swipe at people who communicate for a living.)
Artists have to deal other kinds of credibility erosionâ€”there are those who produce work that’s just not good. Some are professionals, some aren’t. They still get to call themselves artists.
On the other side of the stereotype, there’s the romantic appeal of the artistic lifestyle: total freedom, not much workâ€”it must be so cool to be an artist.
The professional artists I know make good art. They have kids, mortgages, and work their asses off.
All things considered, it’s no surprise that stealing the name has raised objections. It’s not a new thing, having to defend your worth or your work, and that’s the problemâ€”it keeps happening.
“What is art” is a difficult question. It’s subjective. It’s hard to know where this part of the discussion is going, but it’s important to have it.
Maybe what we’re witnessing is an evolution of language, and we need to move on.
You could argue we don’t need labels to begin with, because they’re too limiting. But labels provide a framework that helps us communicate with each other. How far should we push those boundaries? What gets lost in the process?
So with the word “artist” so widely used, abused, and watered down, do you still want to be called an artist?Â Or are you more specific about what you do, instead of identifying yourself as part of one big category of creativity?
Weigh in on the debate: What do call yourself? Are you tired of all the claim-jumping? Do you care one way or the other?