What Is An Artist?

If this blog intends to be successful in helping you become a better artist, I need to provide you with a definition that reflects the meaning, the values and goals of what I mean by that. So; what is an artist?


We can probably all agree that it’s someone who makes art. But art can mean different things to all of us.


I can’t and don’t want to define art for you. It’s always partially a subjective experience and that’s part of its beauty. Our own personality and knowledge has its way of affecting how we understand and think about it. Whatever art means to you right now, is probably something that’s going to change at least a bit over time, and it should; As you grow, as you change, so does your perspective on it.


In this post I want to share with you the way I think about it and what aspects I emphasise, love, and use to make music. This will serve as a point of reference for this blog so you know what I mean by 'becoming a better artist'.


Defining 'Artist'


A lot of people consider an artist to be someone who engages with activities such as music, painting, or writing. For me, being an artist is more about how you do things instead of what you do. It’s the same way I think about entrepreneurship. It’s not just about employing yourself; It’s a mindset, a way of living, thinking and executing. It’s how you view the world, how you think and execute within the realms of creativity and practicality.


The word ‘artist’ has gone through its own evolution, and still continues to do so. In ancient Greece and Rome, there was no word for it. They had words for ‘mastery of craft’, but they were more connected to manual labour than to something that intends to achieve something greater intellectually. This continued to the middle ages, and only in the 16th century, we actually made a formal difference between fine art, which was thought to be more intellectually engaging, and applied arts which was more about making stuff.


So rather than looking back in history to find a definition for the word, we can look back and see that this is something living, something that is developing. So right now, the artists of this day an age, are defining and shaping the next version of what it actually means to be one.


The word itself is always a product and a reflection of its time. Today we have many new fields and professions that didn’t previously exist, and combined with intellectually more advanced and complex ideas and the technology we have and continue to develop, the evolution of artistry continues. The only aspect in the definition of the word that has been present the whole time is that there’s always some sort of a craft or a skill involved. We create and express art through a skill or a craft.


It seems that we slowly discovered a need for the word because we grew to appreciate some aspect of the work we felt wasn’t being recognised. Even if it initially was just about creating a pretty object, the increasing complexity of what you can pour into something forces the concept of beauty to be developed much further. So in a way, we are just getting better and better at the skill of recognising beauty in increasingly complex and impressive ways.


Skill & Creativity


So the evolution of artistry has gone from simple craftsmanship to creating an intellectual component to the thing that we work on; Creating aesthetic value which expresses meaningfulness, or beauty.


You can be a craftsman without being an artist, and you can be a craftsman while being an artist. It’s about how you do things instead of what you do. But I believe you need both. You need a technical skill to combine with imagination and creativity. Technical skills give headroom to your imagination and creativity. If your technical abilities can’t take you high enough, you can’t express your creativity successfully.


Beauty & Humanity


However you define beauty, an artist produces it by using a skill. To produce beauty, you have to understand what beauty means to us human beings, or what it could mean.


We all find different kinds of things beautiful, not only visually, auditorily, but also in the meaning of things. It can be just words, an action, or seeing patterns in life. Whatever is it that makes you experience it, revealing those openings and circumstances is the job of an artist.


The beautiful thing is, if we go by this definition alone, we can see that we’re all capable of this, which again reveals the artist in all of us. We can enjoy the work of artists because a part of all of us is an artist. We’re all creative to a degree, it’s a part of being a human being. It's within all of us, it’s what has allowed our ascension on the evolutionary ladder. Being an artist today is simply a matter of whether you want to scale and explore that to something where your entire life revolves around it, where you make a job out of it.


You Need To Prove It


While I don’t think it’s necessary for one to define themselves as an artist, thinking about it can help you solidify your own artistic constitution; why you do what you do and how, and furthermore, what do you aim to achieve with your art?


So if you define yourself as an artist; what are the qualifications of being one? A doctor needs to know certain things in order to do their job, thus being able to say “I’m a doctor”. But what can an artist say? You need to back up your claim of being one. That requires proof.


One way to think about is that you need to execute your artistic vision and be successful in it. Success can mean different things to all of us, but nonetheless you need to consistently perform to a certain standard in relation to those goals. You can’t just decide that you're an electrician or a doctor, you need to show you are qualified. Is there always a subjective component to what a real artist is? Absolutely. But whatever you set out to do with your art, you need to perform to a certain higher standard within the definitions of your goals.


The issue is that in the ‘real world’ we have ways of measuring the performance of a doctor or an electrician, but when we talk about art, things get a bit different because we don’t have a definite scale to measure against. We have a lot of very developed anchor points, but there’s no absolute scale. Perhaps it’s impossible to have one when you’re talking about something that is at times meant to break the scale itself; Sometimes it aims to be a step ahead, sometimes it's hiding behind a corner, or flying, or time travelling.


This creates difficulty because a lot of people feel like they have the right to exclude themselves from any external standards. If you want to make art on your own completely walled off from everything, I respect that. That’s pure. And then you get to do just that, you can just decide to be something in the simulation that you are running in your head. But if you want to make it out here in the ‘real world’ and build it in relation to everyone else, and actually try and meet and prove your goals to others during the time you’re still alive, the rules are different. You share your art and anyone can praise or attack it, that's how society works.


This series is intended for you to make a difference right now, that’s what I’m all about. You need to know the rules in order to break them like an artist. Learn them, master them, and beat them at their own game by either outplaying them, or creating a whole different game altogether.


What We've Lost


An artist is someone who senses things other people initially miss, and they see a need to reveal and give form to those discovering and share them with others by using their creativity, imagination, and skill.


A definition by Kurt Vonnegut kind of says the same thing, that an artist is the canary bird in the cage which you take down into the coal mine to detect if there’s poisonous gas in the air; They faint first, they alarm us, they let us know something is wrong.


Robert Frost said: “To me the thing that art does for life is to clean it – to strip it to form”, which kind of says the same thing. It’s meant to reveal something we’re not paying attention to, how things actually are, something we’ve lost or forgotten, or haven’t thought about.


Picasso said: "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth".


I think these perspectives are something we’ve lost. It’s a big part of why artists aren’t regarded so highly in our society anymore. Artists used to stand for something. They used to speak about the things that are wrong in the world, to focus our attention to things that we need to be paying attention to. We’ve focused too much on the external, the surface, the looks and the fame. And that’s not artistry, that’s entertainment. We have a lot of great artists today, but not enough of them compared to the volume of entertainment.


Being a great artist is difficult. You need to understand the world, human behaviour, and then find a creative, ingenious way of talking about it in the form of art that's undeniably captivating and skilfully executed.


During the middle ages an artist was thought to be someone of distinction, not only because of their skill, but because of their mentality of always striving for excellence. This goes back to my point of ‘how’ you do things being more important than ‘what’ you do. They were thought of as people who could be trusted to stand for excellence, not only in their craft, but also in life. It’s not only about you expressing yourself, it’s also about taking responsibility of what you do and setting an example.


Don't Refuse The Call


Most people don’t want to face the bad, or sometimes even the good. We’re afraid to give form and express the things that we’re feeling. An artist is someone who challenges themselves on a constant basis. They think about, talk about, and give form to their demons and their blessings. They face life head-on. And that’s difficult. That takes a lot of courage.


Whatever it is you do, whatever you find beauty or artistry in, hopefully this blog will help you become better at it.