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Pearls from artists* # 396

Barbara’s Studio

Barbara’s Studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

To summarize, art is expression. Expression is nonutilitarian and has no purpose beyond itself.  Early on this led me to define works of art as things whose only function is to be perceived.  Since the appearance of such things in everyday life breaks the drift of habit for which we have been hard-wired by evolution, art always occurs as an interruption.  In the course of time, humans have produced innumerable works of art, subordinating them to innumerable ends according to the needs of the hour, yet all art exhibits a primal quality that exceeds those appropriations.  Because the inherent multivalence of art threatens the desire to reduce things to clear significations, human societies have a tendency to overlook it, with the result that a great many aesthetic objects are called art when they are perhaps something else.  To clarify this distinction I called art designed to serve instrumental reason “artifice.”  In its worst forms, artifice amounts to aesthetic manipulation of a kind that is indisputably hostile to the ideals of openness, plurality, freedom of thought, and rational disclosure that we were told were the cornerstones of modernity.  Art, on the other hand, is innately emancipatory, being itself the affirmation or sign of freedom.     

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action

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Pearls from artists* # 337

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

I think society did a great disservice to artists when we started saying they were geniuses, instead of saying they had geniuses.  That happened around the Renaissance, with the rise of a more rational and human-centered view of life.  The gods and the mysteries fell away, and suddenly we put all credit and blame for creativity on the artists themselves – making the all-too-fragile humans completely responsible for the vagaries of inspiration.

In the process, we also venerated art and artists beyond their appropriate stations.  The distinction of “being a genius” (and the rewards and status often associated with it) elevated creators into something like a priestly cast – and perhaps even into minor deities – which I think is a bit too much pressure for mere mortals, no matter how talented.  That’s when artists start to really crack, driven mad and broken in half by the weight and weirdness of their gifts.       

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Pearls from artists* # 333

Studio entrance

Studio entrance

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

… the Greeks and Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity – a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors.  The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf.  They called it your genius – your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration.  Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.

It’s a subtle but important distinction (being vs. having) and, I think, it’s a wise psychological construct.  The idea of an external genius helps to keep an artist’s ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work. If your work is successful, in other words, you are obliged to thank your external genius for the help, thus holding you back from total narcissism.  And if your work fails, it’s not entirely your fault.  You can say, “Hey, don’t look at me – my genius didn’t show up today!”

Either way, the vulnerable human ego is protected.

Protected from the corrupting influence of praise.

Protected from the corrosive effects of shame.       

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

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