I’m going to offer a broad definition of art, and then dismantle it: Art is the manipulation of sound, image, words, or objects for the purpose of human expression.
In this context, even the non-functional elements of automobile design, such as the contours of a sports car, are art, while the purely functional parts – hoses and sparkplugs, for example – are not. A chimpanzee throwing paint at a canvas is not art, it is play, because (so far as we know) expression through object manipulation is beyond the scope of a chimpanzee’s understanding or intent.
But what about human intent? My definition starts to break down when we examine art from a perspective of intent.
Companies hire graphic artists to design packaging. The artist who designs a box of Lucky Charms intends for the result to be eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing to shoppers. She manipulates colors, shapes, and figures to create that box, using specialized knowledge of art techniques. But, in the end, it’s still a box of breakfast cereal. I’d say she’s a craftsperson, not an artist, at least when she’s getting a pay check from General Mills.
On the other hand, Michelangelo Buonarroti is rightfully considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, artists of all time. He painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, of course, in addition to sculpting the David and designing the dome for St. Peter’s in Rome.
Yeah, on commission.
The world would not have any of those priceless treasures if 16th century popes and wealthy merchants didn’t have all kinds of florins to burn (melt?). Sure, they were Michelangelo’s designs (duh), but he didn’t have carte blanche when it came to subject matter. It wasn’t until the era of modern art that artists routinely manipulated objects for the sake of art itself.
That’s right, Michelangelo was merely a craftsman on par with the cereal box designers of today. If you think I actually believe that, you may skip to the comments section now and begin your irrational ranting…
Now that we have those weirdoes out of the way, I admit that I said what I said about Mr. Buonarotti to make a point. It’s hard to define art unless it’s your art and you are doing the defining.
So do you view your writing as art, craft, or entertainment? I suspect most of us would view taking a freelance assignment or writing in a corporate setting to be craft, since we aren’t choosing the subject matter and must conform to strict word counts and style guidelines determined by others. There is nothing wrong with being a craftsperson.
How about fiction, poetry, essay, and personal non-fiction, though? Or blogging, for that matter?
I view what I do as entertainment. To entertain well, I must employ some degree of refined craftsmanship, so an element of craft is present. But not art. In my entire writing life, I have yet to create a piece of art.
When working on a fiction project, I love coming up with a poetic flourish or a clever construction. But as an entertainer, not as an artist. I want people who read my stories and this blog, above all else, to be entertained. That’s my intent.
I’ve never, for one moment, worked on a story that I intended to keep to myself. I’m writing to get published, so other people can laugh, be scared, cry, feel disturbed, or experience some other emotion from reading the words I’ve manipulated. Most of the time, when I get to the end of the first draft, I deem it to be garbage and discard it as a failure. Sometimes, I think it’s good, revise it, and send it out. Then, if I start getting rejections, I deem it a failure. That story simple isn’t good enough to entertain. Whether it means something personal to me is irrelevant.
So what about you? Are you an artist, a craftsperson, or an entertainer? In your answer, feel free to tell me my assessment is all wrong and come up with your own. I won’t mind. Entertainers need to have a thick skin.