Being human, we relate to the world by placing ideas, and people, into slots that define them, and this is especially true when we discuss ideas about creativity and productivity in later life. In most of the literature regarding the subject, intelligence and creativity are discussed in terms of cognitive function and how fast or slow the nerves translate information, as if creativity manifesting in ten seconds was better than that manifesting in thirty. If you are discovering your creative side at an age where you already fear you are irrelevant, then this is a discussion we should all have.
What is an artist?
An artist is someone who has an idea. The idea relates to how he experiences and processes internally the environment around him. He then challenges himself to communicate this truthful insight outside of his own inner world, using a form that others can recognize. This form is the medium used to translate the idea, relying upon the intellect, emotions and the senses - speech, written word, musical sound, mathematical equation, and visual or tactile stimuli – any form that can communicate meaning. The idea can be universal or very singular. Others may have the same or similar idea but the difference is often found in the way the artist communicates the nuances of his understanding.
If the idea feels half formed, the communication is often a means to discover the form. As the form becomes stronger, the artist may become more proficient at finding imagery or medium to express it effectively, or he may not. And when this happens, often the artist feels confused or frustrated or emotionally ineffective. The artist will strive to find the right medium to use, often starting one place and then moving on to another, or using multiple mediums until he finds that which most clearly communicates his ideas.
Many artists, early in their growth, find it appealing to use another’s choice of idea and communication style. In many instances this works well, the way many voices in the choir carry the music in a powerful manner that is different than the power of a single voice. But even then, if the artist does not feel some significant inner thought connection to the idea/insight, his effort will, while adequate, lack conviction. Even if others do not recognize the lack of conviction, the artist will sense the emptiness in the work. And then the artist has a choice, whether to stay or move on into uncertainty of outcome, whether to successfully repeat ideas that are not clear to his own thinking or to risk finding a different solution. It may mean going back to the source and searching for that insight, clarifying the idea. It may mean changing styles or mediums or directions.
Years ago, I attended a workshop taught by two artists. One taught at MoMA and created large paintings in oil of figures swimming underwater before the idea became universal. The other was a conceptual artist working in Europe, creating large installations. Checking in on them more than a decade and a half later, the painter had changed mediums to videography and traveled the world creating a unique visual experience, while the conceptual artist was working with natural materials harvested, formed and assembled into delicate sculptures.
We are never locked into what we are doing. Mediums can change; styles, influences, and ideas are just fluid means of defining our inner truth and expressing it. When we trap ourselves in tunnel vision, looking only at the inches of ground in front of our feet, we forget to look up and see the vast view that exists.
But it always comes back to the source, to the idea and the degree of passion and skill to communicate it to those who will respond. When a human being attempts to move that inner awareness into an outer concrete expression in form, he is what we currently label as an artist.
And being an artist is a description of who you are. There is a difference between that and judging either yourself or others as to whether they are or are not an artist based upon outside criteria. Validations from peers and strangers are a measure of the success of your communication, the appeal of the voice, the visibility, “newness”, “oldness”, in, out, ten minutes of fame aspects of life. To chase after these things appeals to our human desire to reassure ourselves that we are effective in our expression, and it is equally responsible for creating doubt in our ability to be who we are – and that is an entirely different discussion we can have over the coming months.