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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Art vs Commercialism

I've been thinking about this awhile, and today I decided to talk a little about it. Often, when going door to door, people support me for a variety of reasons. Because i'm and artist, because i'm a comedian, or just because they are philanthropic. I really don't care that much. Supporting myself with my work is a job in and of itself, so, I don't really concern myself with the "why" of everyone's purchase.
There is one group, however, that is particularly interesting to me, and that is the group of folks that I meet who self-identify themselves as artists. As I was telling one of my customers today, I usually do not do well with this group. I have a few opinions as to why.

First, "artists," like actors, are catty people. They generally crave attention and criticize other's work if it threatens them. I have heard endless tales of the gallery scene, which I have not yet participated in, about artists not allowing artists into their shows, art galleries playing favorites, artists playing favorites, etc., etc. Thus, when I, as an artist, come to their door, they are threatened.
But this brings me to my second point: what is an artist? Is an artist a "designer?" Because, any savant can learn to draw a horsey, or a pretty little girl in a pink dress. Sure, it might take them longer then someone with a natural eye, but, that can be developed. In fact, when it comes to "photographic" art, many would argue that that is not art at all, but merely copying with technical principals, like the concept of negative space. Just because someone can design a house, paint a nice painting or create a piece of pottery, does that make them an artist? I think not.
I think that an "artist" is someone that understands his or her place in the cosmos, opens their mind to new things, and always has a place, in some way, for those that are creative. Now, if these "artists" at the door said something like "well, I can't afford to help you, but, how about an exchange of a photo of one of my pieces for page of one of your cartoons," or "how about an apple," Then I would percieve them as an artist. However, when a self-identified artist ("Oh, I'm an artist also") has no interest in

a.Looking at what I've produced for 20 seconds
b.showing me anything they have produced
c.Not even trying to do an exchange of SOME sort if they like my work,

Then I do NOT consider them artists. What they are, in fact, are "Commercial Designers." In other words, their "art" is really nothing more then some sort of economic display, like a peacock, to gain approval. In many cases, these "artists" have bought into the idea of peer review, as if "art" was like history, and was only valuable when judged so by some committee of elders. As far as I'm concerned, they have completely lost track of the "why" of their craft, and have instead decided that art is a dry, technical field that is judged by people that are better then them, or at the very least, more influential.

Are some commercial designers artists? Of course. But not all artists are commercial designers. Art is something that is intrinsically diffused through culture, and the Beatles, Elvis, Patch Adams and Wavy Gravy are "artists." They live for their work, took a lot of guff about what they were doing when they were doing it, and ended up breaking the mold and creating new ones. Someone, however, that has never suffered for their work, works downtown at some graphic design studio doing derivative art and not even investing their own opinions into the mix is NOT an artist, they are a commercial or a graphic designer. That's it.

So, when someone identifies themselves as an artist, I think to myself: did this person do something original? Did they actually make something new, or do something new within their own genre? Maybe I'm a bias narcissist, but I think that just the act of reading a blog from a cartoonist that sells his booklets and works door to door is a unique twist on cartooning and the entire profession, and I think that when I make cartoons about my work, or subtly make references to experiences I've had or thoughts I've had while working, I am breaking new artistic ground. I do not think that most of the "artists" who give me nothing or don't look at my stuff have ever created or done anything new in their field, and certainly have never engendered any sort of mass social criticism, either positive or negative, related to their field.

Is my definition of "artist" too stringent? Perhaps, but, when you ARE an artist, you have to have a big ego, and I might as well hold myself above the "average" artist.

:-)

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