“What Is An Artist?” by Tom Fair

There are sectors of society in which the artist is a vague and faraway, even fabled figure. It’s all dependent upon the viewpoint.

In the stewpot of my old Bronx neighborhood one looked upon art as something stored in mothballs in museums.

No one ever made anything in real life in our neighborhood: the fathers worked at some hum-drum job, the rent was paid and at Christmas time, toys appeared like magic in the stores.

Actors and actresses all lived in that faraway place called Hollywood where all one ever did was sing and dance, making movies and TV specials.

On University Avenue, one didn’t get to meet or know an artist personally; and to be an artist was just wishful thinking; but you could get out your paint-by-numbers box and make something pretty to look at on a rainy afternoon.

Meanwhile, in truth, the long fingers of Eternity had been stretching far and wide, now reaching with gentle strokes to scratch the itch of a wondering mind on those bleak Bronx streets.

For didn’t the shoemaker down the block look as if he’d stepped out of a tale by Hans Christian Anderson? And didn’t the murky, greasy Harlem River appear as wide and handsome as the mighty Mississippi to a boy of ten?

Walking stealthily, an intruder between rows of stone busts in New York University’s Hall of Fame, one clearly heard the echoed voices of great inventors and statesmen urging him on to the path of discovery.

The pages of innumerable books crowding library shelves led one to break trails with adventurers as diverse as Harriet Tubman and Marco Polo; and the trials of the school Science Fair brought one to the realization that electricity was not the sole property of the Consolidated Edison company, but a force to harness and apply – perhaps to building robots in one’s basement.

Indeed, if one were to look closely, he would find the seams of his sleepy neighborhood bursting with the energy of countless creations, recorded as history…or begging to be born!

The factor that makes something remarkable or something scarcely worthy of note is viewpoint. It is the individual’s consideration that something is glorious and indispensable.

I have known persons who found beauty in castaway tires and rusty iron window gates. One fellow would rush around town in a battered old pickup truck collecting such items, take them home to his warehouse loft, weld them together into a structure ten feet wide and twenty feet high, stand back eyeing it for a suspenseful moment-and-a-half, and then ask you, with his chest sticking out and his chin way up in the air, “Well – how do you like it? Should bring a fair price, eh?”

This fellow, regardless of conventional definitions, is an ARTIST.

He is of a special breed who, while others are concerning themselves with blowing the hell out of the enemy, or building a thousand new missile bases to prevent that enemy from decimating the home front, is searching for ways to make his immediate environment a little bit brighter, livlier, more interesting.

While another fellow sits in a drab, windowless office, wearily counting up six-digit numbers to save his company’s wealth from the prying fingers of the tax collector, the artist is cheerfully mixing his colors, experimenting with new rhythms.

One fellow makes a life of poking around and through the human body, slicing, injecting, siphoning, grafting; the other stands thoughtfully on the edge of a desert and proclaims that a city will rise there.

In these comparisons we have the basic difference between the “common man” and the artist.

It matters not which medium is used. It matters not whether the artist personally handles the materials of his creativity or directs others in building the entity he has decided will come into being.

The commoner fiddles with life that is already dead or dying. The fiend destroys without any sense of differentiation anything that falls across his path. But the artist lives to create improved environments, to bring continual pleasure to the soul and to the senses!

The Master Artist creates in such a way as to bring the greatest enjoyment to the greatest number; but any artist, great or small, deals in the source material of life. He makes a dull day into a festive occasion.

The abilities of true artists have often been attributed to the gods, by people who became so removed from their own basic ability that it became an impossibility for them to confront a working artist directly.

But truthfully, every individual has the raw ability to create and further the creation of life; and ideally, every man is an artist.

When all of humanity decides to incorporate into creative ventures all of the energies it now invests in fearful protective measures and outright destruction, we will have a peaceful, flowering planet on which it is a pleasure to live.

Portions of mankind already do this; mankind as a whole has the potential of following those examples. It’s not a very difficult thing to do!

Every man has within him the makings of an artist. So – what is an artist?

For one thing, an artist is a fellow who knows he’s not meat. Meat has never had the ability to create a single unit of life energy.

An artist is a man or girl who initiates change.

An ethical artist directs his efforts to produce effects that will benefit mankind and enhance the environment. Examples: writing a song such as “America The Beautiful”; or creating children’s plays that communicate principles of good conduct.

A degraded artist is an artist with limited vision and poor control of materials; such an artist may create, but the effects he produces are not very life-enhancing (although he might think they are). Examples: promoting casual sex through pop songs; NYC subway grafitti.

A master artist in a particular medium is a technical leader in that medium’s use. He has studied and applied enough variations of creating effects in that medium that he elicits the admiration of the greater portion of all who come into contact with his art.

Examples: Andrew Wyeth (fine artist); Agnes de Mille (dance); George Washington Carver (agriculture); J.S. Bach (music); Agatha Christie (literature); Frank Lloyd Wright (architecture); Michael Jordan (basketball); Carole King (songwriting).

A pervasive* (master) artist is one whose boundless energy, curiosity and, diligence, ambition and pure enthusiasm for creation carry him on to develop excellence in not one or even two, but many creative fields, using a wide variety of mediums. Examples: Leonardo Da Vinci; Benjamin Franklin.

There is one further stage to which a pervasive master artist might aspire. In this stage, he becomes involved with dispensing the knowledge he has acquired, apprenticing others, creating new master artists, enlivening entire communities, influencing governments and populations of planets.

Having been successful to such a degree, he would have fulfilled the role of consummate artist. Example: L. Ron Hubbard.

Every community that still has a spark of life in it, a twinkle in its eye, so to speak, most likely has an active artist among its number.

The artist is the source of inspiration for his community. People should be more careful to seek out such fellows, and treat them well. Schools should make a concerted effort to secure such fellows for their staffs – as artists – and pay them well.

The media do not always report the existence and activities of the finest artists on the planet or even in the local community. Therefore, each member of the communitty would do well to do his own seeking.

The individual and the community that takes the ethical artist to heart will find itself on the road to a new order of creativity, in which every day is alive with the splendor and glory only attributed on the downtrodden earth to some far-distant heaven.

“Heaven,” – the brand that is based on production rather than unearned ease – is only the way life ought to be; so why not take a stand behind the guys and gals who make every day a day in Heaven: the ethical artists.

*Pervasive: spreading through every part of something

TOM FAIR
Copyright (C) 2002 by Tom Fair.
All Rights Reserved.
producer@artistsforabetterworld.com