The Role of the Artist

Some popular quotes on art:

  • “Art is made by the alone for the alone.” – (Luis Barragan)
  • “We have art so that we may not perish by the truth.” – (Friedrich Nietzsche)


What is the role of the artist in society?  Is it the obligation of the artist to convey what others cannot see, the underpinnings of this reality that are not readily apparent; the things you feel and experience that you cannot put into words; the direct confrontation with the unknown and the mystery?  The artist is on a path much alike to the spiritual path, and their art may even be their burden.  The nature of producing great art often involves a great inner struggle, creation and destruction of all things in their head, growth pains, labor pains, and the end result; a birth of something new, something unique; something that no one has said, or seen, or felt before.  There often may be a suffering for their art.  A troubled mind is often a pre-disposition for the greatest of greats.  The artist is often never satisfied, and may often be depressed, enabling them to express what is deep within the recesses of their mind.  Art is often therapy for the artist; a cathartic release.


All things that the artist is going through at the time are immediately taken into account; the here-and-now of who they are, what society is at the time, and what gives what they produce its relevance.  Without relevance art is nearly useless.  Thankfully, the outer limits of the imagination and everything in between are enough to satisfy.  The task of the artist is to find something worth conveying, and tell it like no one has before.  The artist must go down, deep down, into the depths of his soul and this limitless reality, and bring back something into this world, for the people; to look at, and so much more.  The one who dares to do what no one has done before often reaps the greatest rewards.  The artist certainly has a duty to create, for the people.  Art is a meditation on life.  It is a “magnification” of this reality, often involving things overlooked.  It is a “highlighting” of whatever the artist chooses to focus on.  It is a deep and personal vision made real.


Then there is selling out.  All artists who make it big may go through this struggle.  The artist may lose ‘it’ on their path to fame and fortune.  They may sacrifice the ideal creative process for the promise of a paycheck.  Thankfully there is ‘finding it’ again, if the artist had ‘it’ to begin with.  The creative process cannot be rushed.  The band “Tool” haven’t released an album in twelve years; they finally plan to release one this year.  Although they haven’t been working on it for twelve years, it is similar to a writer who takes a break from his novel, to let things settle and to let the writing marinate.  Who the artist is at the time has just as much importance as what they are creating.  There is also a flow state that many are familiar with, including great athletes; they tend to produce, and well at that, when they are in the zone; when they are directly connected to their potential.


Then there are those who outright refuse to sell out.  Take a look at the recent Banksy stunt below, shredding a priceless work of his (bottom of page).  The aftermath was a painting that is possibly worth more than the original.  It is a win-win situation, Banksy keeps his artistic intention intact, and the art-world gets an original, albeit shredded, piece.  This piece, and the shredding of it, is a statement on the art world; which all too often deals in price-points and not in the artistic value of the work itself; thus losing the entire purpose of the art itself.  The artist must always take account of who they are, and why they got there in the first place, and if they stick to the methods that made them original and great, they have nothing to worry about on their path to fame and fortune.  The moral of the story for artists is, never sell any part of your soul for a paycheck.  Thankfully, the artistic onlooker, the genuine ones, can tell and usually stray away from commercialized, overproduced nonsense that is so often brought to the forefront of popularity these days.  Pop culture, in any form, be it music, art, books, etc. often cheapens the art; great art is made on the fringes of popularity and doesn’t depend on it.  Its purpose is definitely not to please the masses, however common this may be, but to create something worth conveying, whether many agree with it or not.  Some great works for example can be disturbing, jarring, and outright unsettling, instead of pleasing to the viewer.  Instead of being comfortable and familiar, it may also be something that questions everything the average man holds dear.  The desire to create something new, and of value, does not depend one bit on popularity.  Desire for popularity often hinders, holds back, and limits creative works.


The path of the artist is often a lonely one; they may use their art as a means to relate to people, they may use it to convey those ideas and concepts and experiences that they are going through.  There is no greatness without a bit of a struggle, and all artists know this.  The lonely, bleeding hearts, often have the most to give.  Their role is, and should be, integral to this society.  To convey the fringes of what is possible; to turn everything on its head just for the sake of it.  They should all recognize their power, and its power; just as a few well written words can bring to attention, and even destroy, the culturally-accepted norms of society, a few well-placed brush-strokes can capture the hearts and minds of the people.  It is their duty to be captivating; especially in this instant-gratification modern culture.  We are all gazing into that mesmerizing metaphysical abyss, the void from which all things are brought into creation and made ‘reality’, and the artist is the one who makes that readily apparent.


The artist’s role is therefore to “point out”, or even scream, whatever they think is worth saying; somebody, somewhere, will surely listen, and resonate with.  Everything created by the hands of man is a piece of art, including buildings, machines, roadways, and all of technology, which the individual inevitably encounters every single day of their life.  As we move forward in this age of technology, art’s role is surprisingly more relevant than ever, and it competes and holds its own despite any technological advancements.  The artist’s role is to make reality the stuff of his mind, and hopefully create some sort of dialogue that lets us experience this life more fully.  Without it, we would be lost, for art is meant to light the way; possibly to actual truth, or even to God.  It is a messy staircase that we are collectively building, brick by brick, where each step builds on the last but also stands alone and holds its ground.  There is at once, with art, nothing new under the sun, and a brilliant expression of what has never been or will be.  It brings forth that which has been lost, that which came prior; and also brings into being that which was never supposed to exist, creating out of nothingness, something; something self-sustaining that speaks for itself.




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