I had a very nice video chat earlier this week with Seshu of Tiffinbox. It’s not online yet but I’ll let you know when it is. We talked quite a bit about Kage Collective but also about personal motivation, approach etc. At some point though, he asked me a question that caught me off guard: Do you consider yourself an artist?
I seem to remember a lot of rambling and hesitations. Long after the interview was over the question stayed with me, replaying in my mind with all kinds of different responses on my part.
Why did I hesitate? Why was it so hard to answer even though I did in the end concede that yes, I do think of myself as an artist? Truthfully: I was scared of sounding like a total douche. I don’t believe in hiding my true feelings but in this case… My brain was suddenly flipping through 30 possible answers, for fear of sounding somehow… Pretentious. This is probably a very North American reflex, this stygma that comes from the notion that calling yourself an artist implies considering yourself above the fold, beyond the common rabble, feet hovering a couple of inches above a pedestal.
Look here: The Artist.
It’s not how I see it at all. For me it’s just purely descriptive: if you spend most of your time working within an artistic framework — whatever it is — then you’re an artist. That’s it. It doesn’t mean you’re a GOOD artist, it doesn’t annoint you with super powers or any sort of special statute. It certainly doesn’t make you better than anyone else; it’s simply an occupation, for better or worse, with its advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve spent my entire life working in various creative fields — music, television, design, photography. In all cases I’ve been required to make something out of nothing based on an idea, to illustrate a concept or provide emotion, either visually or sonically. I’ve lost sleep over it, I’ve felt elation, I’ve felt like crap. I’ve called my own phone to record ideas for fear of losing them. There’s nothing exceptional about this; I’m sure lawyers and engineers and CEOs and school teachers get these moments as well. It just so happens that in my case, it’s always been about what society considers an artistic pursuit. I’m not going to shy away or hide behind the term crafstman, as though this is somehow nobler because it implies workmanship and skill. It’s all skills: changing a pipe, writing a poem, building a house or illustrating a children’s book. The term artist shouldn’t negate the idea of work. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I get that there’s an entire art world out there based on nothing but speculation and financial transactions whose only goal is to inflate values for higher gains. It exists. But crap exists everywhere, in every domain.
Elitism? Well, unless you’re extremely lucky, chances are you’ll be spending most of your life three or four universes away from that 1%. Champagne and caviar? Uh… Nope. Perhaps never. Which doesn’t matter because that’s not the endgame and it shouldn’t be. Being an artist is simply about creating artistic stuff. No capital A, no pedestal.
So allow me to answer this question again, for the sake of clarity:
Seshu: “Do you consider yourself an artist?”
Me: “Well, yes. But there’s nothing fancy about that. It’s just what I do.”