Friday, August 26, 2011

New Definition of Artist

"You only get to be an artist like that by turning everything in your life upside down, by making horrible, ugly, mistakes, by doing things so differently that people will never be able to figure you out. By failing, cheating, lying, having everyone hate you, and coming out the other side with a little bit more wisdom than the rest."
James Altucher made this comment in relation to his claim that Steve Jobs is the greatest artist that ever lived. You can read his (rather interesting) article about Steve Jobs here. I really can't stand the way the word "artist" has been abused, misused, and diluted during the past forty years. When I was growing up, the word "artist" defined a person who produced pieces of art: paintings, drawings, or sculpture. The term was also used to describe how a person who did anything well could be an artist at it, but it was usually reserved for activities that involved expression, like music, poetry, dance, and acting. In other words, it described artistry.

When the term began to be used to define the "talent" in commercial recordings, anyone who stood in front of a microphone could be an artist. It took me years to understand that this term, one I reserved for people I held in the highest esteem, had become a term used to define a performer's role in packaging and selling recorded music, regardless of the quality. The first time someone in the music business referred to me as an "artist" I took it as a compliment. I later realized that the term "artist" was one he used for any person who performed, and I felt kind of stupid. The term "fine artist" is now, I suppose, the operative one for people who used to be normal "artists," though the term "performance artist" does not give the impression that the person doing the performing is doing it in any sort of "conventional" sense.

The issue I question is not the value and quality of Steve Jobs' work. I take issue with Altucher's claim that he is the greatest artist that ever lived (and I imagine Jobs would too). Altucher's definition of an artist is one I have never encountered before (and I have encountered many people I would consider artists--the kinds of artists who use brushes, pens, voices, and bows). I just don't understand the cheating and lying part. Real artists do not cheat and lie their way to gaining the ability to express themselves concisely and truthfully through their particular medium.

Failure for an artist is a relative term (Bizet considered himself a failure), and having everyone hate you is something that cannot be proven or even measured. What is Altucher talking about? Who is "everyone?" What is the "other side," and what is this wisdom of which he speaks?

1 comment:

Paulie said...

Hah, loved the intro. People who do all that will usually come out with a bit more wisdom, because they experience so much.

Artists shouldn't settle for anything that might seem routine. They should always challenge themselves, try new things, experiment. That's the only way you can create music afterwards, by experiencing the world first and foremost.

I'm aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Cate Von Smith-Bauder, good friend of mine, busker that went a few years ago through a Europe busking tour and told me it was the best time she ever had.