Artist = someone who has an idea and does it

This week I had lunch with an artist. A proper one – he had a waxed moustache and everything. The question to be resolved – what does it mean to be an artist?

Through a delightful conversation (well, delightful for me, possibly more akin to the Spanish Inquisition for him), I arrived at the following four statements.

To be an artist you must have ideas

He spoke of notebooks full of ideas for pieces, captured thoughts and exploratory drawings. Some artists collect ideas, shifting and selecting before choosing which to move forwards with. Others might begin with a material, a place or an object and practically explore its potential. The key was the concept of ‘idea’ – usually defined as ‘a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action’.

To be an artist you must make work

To have the idea alone is not enough, you have to make it manifest. You have to do something about it. You have to practically commit. This is often more complicated than it sounds. There are lots of doubting voices that might suddenly appear, summoning interesting words like ‘quality’ and ‘excellence’ that seem designed to throw you off course. Basically, you’ve got to give it a go.

To be an artist you must want to do more than simply represent

Tricky one this. At the start of the last century, there were probably 20 people who could capture a moment in a photograph; at the start of this one there were probably 20 people who couldn’t. What makes a photograph ‘art’?

My artist friend spoke about forward translation not simple representation. Taking your object, your starting point, your muse and using your ‘art’ – whatever it might be – to drive forwards your unique perspective. Reframing it for others, enabling them to see something in a way that they hadn’t done before.

To be an artist you must have intension

We both felt that art should have a purpose, an intention , a reason for being. That art had an unequalled talent to move people, to communicate, to touch the soul. This doesn’t mean that art need be issue-based (although there is plenty of art that is), or that there is only one way to ‘read’ a piece of art – far from it. But that for the artist there should be a reason behind the creation of work. It’s not simply about the meaningless construction of stuff.

For my friend, it is this last element that is most perplexing at present. What is the purpose behind the work he could create? What does he want to say?

As for me, I’m right back at the beginning. Definitely not an artist (but I have now got a new notebook for ideas…)

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