The Myth Of The Artist
If you read my profile you know that I made my living working in theatre for a good long time. That appearance shaped my perspective about what the nature of being an artist is all about, what it does and does not entail. I've become so sick and tired of coffee house artists whose only creative talent seems to be attitude and costuming themselves, that I'd thought I would dispel a few of the myths that have sprung up about artists.
First, and what I would think most important, is that not everyone can be an artist. Sorry that's the truth no matter what a majority of wanabes say to make themselves feel important. Its not that everyone doesn't have some spark of creativity within them, or aptitude for something, but that's not the same as being an artist. Whatever your medium there are intangibles that separate the dilettante from the real thing.
If poetry is your goal, you've got to forget all about punishments and all about rewards and all about selfstyled obligations and duties and responsibilities etcetera ad infinitum and remember one thing only: that it's you-- nobody else-- who determine your destiny and decide your fate...e.e.cummings
To me what that quote has always meant is that you better not being doing your work for any other reason then you need to. Don't be doing it for position, status, recognition, or any other reward because a true artist will get no satisfaction from any of that. The social niceties of the coffee clache pale in comparison to the satisfaction of easing the urge to create. If you spend more time talking then doing, if your more concerned how you are perceived instead of creating perspective, and if your not prepared to dedicate your very life's blood to it then you are something other then an artist.
Myth number two: Its easy. This ties in with the first one, in that those who observe don't see what came before the finished result.They think it merely involves picking up a brush and applying paint to canvass, or sitting at a typewriter and clacking away. They don't see the years of preparation that has gone into that moment. How the painter has worked on her technique for years so that she no longer has to think about what she is doing; that brush stroke that looks so casual is actually the accumulation of experiment after experiment to find a means to achieve a desired result; the poem banged off in a half hour comes from writing day in and day out to develop a voice on paper that expresses the one in your head.
If you want a sure fire way of telling an artist apart from others, look for those who dismiss technique as important. They will have excuses such as it interferes with their creative flow, it stifles my impulses, or grammar limits what I can express. There's more a long those lines but you get the picture. You'll also find that most of them, especially the "visual artists" have never taken a class in their lives, or those that have will tell you that the structure stifled their creativity. This is equvilent of a surgeon saying that anatomy classes interfered with his surgical style.
Myth number three: I'm different therefore I'm an artist. The reality of this one is that an artist is different because of who and what they are. They don't set out to be different, most suffer because of it, spending years of frustration and hurt trying to fit in and be accepted but never succeeding. Its not until they find the comfort and solace that their creative expression brings that they are offered some release. The tortured artist is not a role to be assumed, taken on and off like a beret and sunglasses, rather endured with occasional moments of release offered by the fulfilling moments of creation. Pretend idiosyncrasies, crass behavior, and odd dress are not prerequisites for being an artist anymore then they are for being anything else. Some of the most accomplished artists I know dress as conservatively as bankers and it doesn't seem to affect the quality of their work.
Being an artist is like being a priest. It is a calling, an urge to worship at the alter of the capricious Goddess of creativity. She's a tease who flirts with your emotions and mind and can leave you a total wreck. But you keep coming back again and again because you can't resist her charms. Its no coincidence that the Greek Goddess of inspiration is named Eros- erotic-. But to be an acolyte in this temple requires more then just simple attendance and minor genuflections. If you are not slavishly devoted to it's cause, willing to sacrifice all to the point of no return, then please a simple request. Leave those of us alone who are devout. Keep your insecurities about who you are and what you want from life to yourself and don't inflict them on an unsuspecting public by calling it art. There's enough pretence in the world already without the one bastion of true human individuality being besmirched through association by posers and dilettante.
I'm not trying to discourage people from writing and painting and doing creative things. The more creativity in this world the better. The more people learn about the arts and appreciate them the easier it will become for artists to be accepted by society as full members. But those of you who pose and pretend are doing more of a disservice then you can imagine to those that struggle on a minute by minute basis with creation. The image of elitist intellectual snobbery, the I belong to an exclusive club that only a select few can join attitude, has done more to alienate people from genuine art and artists then any government policy and funding cutbacks. Its hard enough being an artist without having to worry about bad publicity caused by wannabes.