What is Art?
What is an Artist?

I had been reading interviews with some of the most famous artists in the world. They were cogent and verbose on subjects like the difference between insider art and outsider art. But when asked what is an artist, surprisingly not so. Saying an artist is anyone who makes art isn't really saying anything.

The question isn't really about anyone who makes art. A seven-year-old with a crayon is an artist in that light. But what is an Artist with a capital "A." What is capital "A" Art?

I finally came to think that a capital "A" Artist is anyone with an original thought and enough creativity to figure out how to use whatever talent he or she might have to express it.

Here are the two examples that might make clear what I am thinking. One is a woman who is the most naturally talented person I ever have known. It doesn't matter if you put an eraser or a chisel in her hand. What she can do in the next three minutes is so intimidating that it makes you wonder why you ever might have thought you could do anything in that field.

But after decades working full time as an artist, she has yet to produce anything than anyone could look at and recognize as hers. A painting of hers recently sold in a gallery for under a thousand dollars. It was sheep in a meadow perfectly rendered. It will look good over someone's couch.

Contrast that with an artist I read about years ago. He had had a lucrative career in New York for several decades. Some journalist had looked him up after it was over. He said that he never had been to art school and didn't have any of the talent or skills of his contemporaries. He couldn't draw or paint or sculpt, so what he did was think up things no one ever had thought to do before and put them in galleries. People turned out to see and collect what new thought he had this time.

The first of these two examples is talent with no original thinking. The second is original thinking with no talent.

We know who created the first piece of artwork still in existance that uses the concept of perspective. We don't necessarily know who first thought it up. It could have been someone who sketched only with lumps of charcoal from his fire to amuse his children. Such artwork would be unlikely to survive no matter how brilliant it was, but the idea of perspective did. It is ideas that survive. It is ideas that raise the level of what everyone else thinks and does.

Discussions about Significant Form or magnitudes of aesthetic experience and such like are about art with a lower case "a." The composition can be random. It can be aesthetically nuetral. It can contain no symbols and tell us nothing about the real world. If it contains an original thought, no matter what it is about, it has raised the level of thought in general. That is what survives and changes the world. How can something that does that not be capital "A" Art?

Explains Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, doesn't it?