Rant about what it means “To be an Artist”

When I was 5 I wrote my first short story. I was lazy about writing, so I used something like morse code. “Terry likes Susan. Susan is dangerous girl. Fights with enemy, Lucy. There is a gun fight. Terry is wounded.” and so on…

Well, by modern standards that was art.

Why? Because everything anyone wants to call art is art, by modern day definitions.

That means we made  a lot of progress from what the school system defined as “Art” about 50 years ago, where works had to conform to more established and accepted cannons.

But back to my rant.

Later, growing up, I started getting into drawing. First with pencils, then charcoals, finally inks, brushes and rapidographs. And between my peers of 12 and 14 years old, I was an amazing artist.

Then I got into writing poetry to complement my teenage angst. It worked for me. Not only that, I did some interesting works that I still keep to this day, and when I re-read them some (very few) of them still hold up.

Then, in my late teens I got into writing fiction. Never got published by any of the big companies, but then again, I barely submitted anything.

Then I published a couple of short comic in Europe, for a now defunct comic magazine. I felt accomplished. I had made it!

Then, in my early twenties I joined a small indie music band.

Later, in my thirties, I finished a couple of unpublished novels. Didn’t care to go through the submission process. They are fine in the draw where they are, for all I care.

The few (very few) people that I hold close and dear to me and to whom I revealed and disclosed my artistic progress in life, they never call me “an artist”.
Why? They know I fucking hate to have that term ascribed to my persona.

Since art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination” everything we do as humans is art.

To me, saying “I am an artists”, is no different than someone saying “I am a mammal” or “I breath oxygen” or “I am a vertebrate”

A mother breastfeeding her kid is an artist. A gardener pruning some hedges is an artist. An accountant, completing a ledger entry is an artist.

See what I did there? I admit that all humans have a creative (transformative) streak in them, and thus we are all artists. I have leveled the playing field. Now, if you want to do graffiti on a wall, and call it something really distinguishable, you have to use another term, because “We are all artists”.

So, when I am doing a pencil sketch I ask the person addressing me to call me “A maker of drawings” or a “drawer”. Well, not drawer, because it sounds to close to the place where you keep your socks, but you get the idea.  “Illustrator” will do fine. And if I am writing, I am a writer, or a novelist, or a maker of fiction.

Therefore I call a guy who makes sculptures a sculptor, and a guy who directs movies a film director.

Because we are all artists. And calling someone artists, is the same as calling them persons, or humans.

The point of my rant is not merely semantics. It has a strong sociological component. Sometimes from an elitist perspective, like when someone farts and turns around to the rest of the museum patrons and says: “I’m an artist, behold my latest masterpiece…aaaand its gone!” or when the general population actually confronts the college kid in art school, and tell him “You can’t be an artist. You haven’t published anything I’ve seen yet.”

There are some people, (too many, actually) who also refuse to ascribe you the adjective to artist, not on the basis that they don’t believe everyone makes art, but on the basis that unless you are recognized by a commercial venue, then they won’t consider you an artists.
In other words, some people will not call you an artists, or recognize you as one, unless you have been published by a known publisher, or have enjoyed a showing in a re-known gallery, or have signed with a known record label, etc.

These people really mistake artists for commercial artists, and they have to stop doing that.

There is this Spanish comic book artist that I admire greatly, and who has had very little art production. Maybe 2 stories sold in the 80’s. I met him in person back then, when I was a starry-eyed kid, and in one of our conversations I asked why he didn’t push harder to get published and he plainly stated he wanted to focus on doing art, not selling his art. And if he wasn’t in demand, he was not going to be wasting time being on demand.

Few years later I visited him again, and he was earning a living as a driving instructor. But he showed me his latest portfolio, and he had continued drawing and inking, and had more than 50 amazing looking illustrations in his desk drawer.

I understood right then something important: The industry this guy wanted to work in was responding to market forces that created a very scarce market, where artists are not utilized properly. With so little demand in Spain in those years, artists were desperate to cut rates and were competing amongst themselves. So, this great artist could not make a living of his art, not because of his lack of skill, but because of his lack of business savvy. How is that related to making art?

Not related in any way shape or form.

But this comic book illustrator proved to me something I suspected as a kid.

A true artists HAS to produce art, whether he/she gets paid for it, whether he/she gets to work in that field, whether he/she needs to dig trenches to earn a living. Somewhere, sometime, the true artist, will need to type that story that has been buzzing in his/her head; will need to doodle with a pen on paper, to appease a unique twitch, will need to express what’s inside.

Some, very very few of us, will have their works hanged in a museum someday. Or played on orchestra halls, or reach the big screen.

But I reclaim the term “Artists” for humanity. No more seeing a dude juggling on the park and letting him say “Oh, I am an artist”. We have to remind him “yeah buddy, and I breath air too. So, you are a street performer, right?”

Now, whether you can make a living and dedicate yourself exclusively to the expression of your art, that is a topic for another conversation altogether.

And for those of you who are trying to make a living at the expression of your artistry, good luck. Steady does it, and be prepared with an uphill battle that has more to do with economic, sociological and circumstantial  factors than anything you are doing or in your power to change.

Luck has also a lot do with it.

For the comic book illustrator/creator usually it is first perseverance, and then luck. They need to persevere and stay on it until that one oppotunity pokes its head out, so they can grab it. It may take years of toiling at something you are not passionate about.

Just look at most greats, and you can trace an evolution on their art and style. I present to you John Buscema, and his brother Sal Buscema, Frank Frazzeta, Will Eisner, Alex Raymond, Neil Adams, Hal Foster, Russ Manning, Burne Hogarth, Joe Kubert, and the list goes on and on…. If they couldn’t get a job to pay for their living while they were perfecting their craft, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy their iconic works.




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