Monday, January 29, 2007

Portrait of an Artist

No one has ever accused me of being an artist, and much evidence supports this silence. I do not enjoy opera but will jam out to *NSYNC. I cannot draw anything except for an elephant, but even the last time I did that someone mistook it for a large dog. I do not play an instrument and do not sing outside of the shower. I do not write poetry for fun and cannot tell you the difference between the Grammy's, the Oscars, or the Emmy's. Oh, and I watch lots of sports. I don't think artists are allowed to do that.

Despite this damning mountain of evidence, I assert that I am an artist. And here's my case:

I like to write. I like to read good writing. I like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Shawshank Redemption."

And that's all I got. But I think there's more to it than that.

It seems the word "artist" is one those increasingly prevalent words whose meaning has been highjacked by a group of people for the purpose of isolating themselves. If a person does not fit a set of characteristics or perform certain actions, she/he is not an artist. The painter who masters a canvas can claim the title while a CEO who masters the market cannot. A musician who creates a beuatiful symphony can claim the title while the Bosie St. football coach who created a beautiful hook-and-ladder cannot. Confining the word to certain cultural norms stiffles its broadness, destroys its ability to connect us to each other, and mars its beauty.

The difficulty here is that "art" is such a hard word to define. offers 20 defintions. If we say that the word involves expressing oneself, appreciating beauty, and creating creatively, I don't think it takes any of the qualities I listed at the outset to be an artist. The word beautifully expands, claiming not only painters, muscians, and directors but hairdressers, athletes, and orators. In fact, I will argue that the word will claim a part of all of us. Even a cultural dolt like me.

It seems that most people (I won't say "all" because that is such an encompassing word. . . but I have a hunch) possess these artistic characteristics. We long to express ourselves; our conversation, our journaling, our books, our music, our clothes, all scream to the world, "Hey!!! This is me!" We long for beauty, though it may take innumerable forms - everything from comic books to sports to fantasy basketball (just kidding) to nature to drama. Finally, we long to create, to accomplish, to take ownership of a work - whether it be model cars or scarfs or blog posts or houses or TPS reports or. . . . Our bodies even model this, as we have the biological ability to create more of our own. We are very literally creative beings.

Ultimately, I believe we all can claim ourselves as artists because we are made in the image of our Creator God, a being with an artist's heart. He loves creating, evidenced by our existence and the pleasure he takes in that existence. Not only does he create, but he creates beautifully. The majestic mountains whose beauty even condos and ski slopes cannot hide. The diverse personalities and talents of his people. The great expanse of the sky with myriad of starry lights that made Einstein question atheistic beliefs. The intricate and eloquent expressions of God's character found in the Biblical text.

God is a Creator; God loves beauty; God expresses himself.

I will take the leap and call God an artist. As one made in his image, feeling these same desires to express, to appreciate, and to create, I take the even bigger leap and call myself an artist.

More on this tomorrow.


Jeff said...

well said.

Anonymous said...

I popped over from my cousin Chris Pappa's blog to find this beautifully written commentary. Couldn't agree with you more.

The part where you said, "If a person does not fit a set of characteristics or perform certain actions, she/he is not an artist." is, unfortunately how a great many people view the term. I much prefer your definition.

I like this one too:
"An artist earns the right to call himself a creator only when he admits to himself that he is but an instrument." - Henry Miller

Ben said...


Welcome to Redeeming Prufrock! I recognized you from Chris's blog, which I check more frequently for new posts than I'm willing to admit. Ahhhhhhh, the beauty of the post-work afternoon malaise.

Anyways, thanks for stopping in and adding your thoughts to the conversation. Mad props to a man who employs the lost art of quoting the text.