January 22, 2004

A world full of creative artists

Filed under: Art and About Creativity — admin @ 3:22 pm

I was making a purchase at the art supply store when two college-aged women walked by in the middle of a conversation. As they passed me, one said to the other, “I’m creative, but I’m not artistic.” I cringed. Social rules and regs inhibited me from going over and lecturing them about my beliefs that we are all creative AND artistic beings. Nothing makes me jittery faster than to hear someone embrace one but deny the other.

It’s a pervasive notion in our culture than when it comes to artistry, you’ve either got it or you don’t. It is simply a matter of semantics. Many people use the word artist to describe someone who paints or sculpts, or uses other static visual arts as a creative outlet. The visual arts community does very little to dissuade the public of this misconception. And the hoity-toity are the worst offenders. Even photographers are usually not included in the “Artist” clique. And if your creative outlet includes film, or any of the performing arts, you are definitely not invited anywhere near the “Club.”

One of the most offensive things ever said to my face came from a local oil painter during a story interview. He asked if I was an artist. I said that I was. He got excited and said, “What do you paint?” I answered that I didn’t paint on canvas, but I did do faux-finishing and decorative wall painting, that I was a musician, loved decoupage, gardening, cooking, interior decorating, filmmaking, writing…” He interrupted me and with visible disappointment said, “Oh, but you’re not an artist.” I needed to take a few deep breaths to be able to finish that interview.

Some people only get the title of “Artist” bestowed on them by themselves and others if they actually make the leap from garage hobbyist to someone who sells their creative outlet for money.

And some people were so creatively stifled as children for felonies like coloring outside the lines or deciding that the spilled paint was more fun to tactilely explore than putting brush to white paper, that they grow into creatively repressed adults. Anthony Ruiz, owner of FastFrame in Lafayette, once told me that he can always tell when someone comes into his shop hauling baggage from a traumatic creative experience. They are the people who are completely paralyzed when he gives them a selection of mats and frames to choose from. They try to slough off the creative responsibility on him, but he is steadfast in making them do the work themselves. Anthony says it is an incredibly emotional experience for these folks because they are so afraid of “getting it wrong.”

Some adults allow themselves to be creatively functioning members of society but absolutely refuse to wear the mantle of “Artist.” Another local painter I once interviewed was almost unable to answer any questions about her art because she found the whole idea that the newspaper thought she was an artist absurd. The occasion of the article was the opening of a gallery show featuring her work, but she did not see that as validation of an “Artist” title. My mom is a terrifically creative woman, particularly in the textile arts, however you will never hear her use the term “textile artist” to describe herself.

Maybe it is because I’m a writer, but I believe the dictionary is the authority on all things semantic. This is a language issue, after all, but an important one since language is a powerful force in our everyday lives. Merriam-Webster says to create is “to produce through imaginative skill.” To be artistic is “showing imaginative skill in arrangement or execution.” Enough said.

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