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The Column icon The Column: Issue 13

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Are You Artist or Creative?
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Our desire to name, define and categorise the world is testament to our need to make sense of it, yet many words are used in such diverse ways, the more they are considered, the more they confuse. The word 'artist' is one such word.

A Time Before Art

The problem with defining the word artist is that in common usage it covers such a broad range of people. From those who practice or are skilled in 'art' (the painter), to those whose profession requires 'artistic expertise' (the 'make-up artist').

The idea of the 'artist' as a creative person who has certain 'artistic qualities' is a relatively recent one. When we visit a museum or gallery where ancient objects are displayed as 'art' we experience those objects in a very different way than those who viewed (or more likely used) them in their original setting. The maker of such objects may not have been perceived of as an artist at all, nor is it likely their creations were viewed as 'art' at their time of production. Painting for example was counted as a craft much like woodworking.

It was in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy that 'works of art' began to emerge as a collective term for many disciplines including painting, sculpture, and architecture. Later in the 18th century, music and poetry became known as 'Fine Arts'. It was also at this time that the notion of the 'artist' came into being.

Artistic Dogma

Academic institutions specialising in the training of artists were established in Italy and France for the first time, and political and social influences seperated many creative occupations, such as the 'decorative arts' and 'crafts', from being counted as among the elite art in these academies. Pottery, weaving, metalworking, and furniture making were viewed as inferior compared with the academics choice of what constituted art: painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry.

Art as practiced in the academies of the 18th century demanded the artist observed many aesthetic 'rules' and inevitably provoked a reaction to its dogmatic approach in the 19th century.

Fluid Notions of Art

It was a little over eighty years ago that traditional art academy notions of the artist and art were challenged by Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement. Duchamp declared that anything the artist produces is art. From that moment the definition of the artist and art has become increasingly problematical as new generations assert their own 'art identity'. In large part this has led to the dislocation of contemporary art from the general public as they struggle to connect with the artist and their work that constantly redefines itself.

The Case For The Creative

My hunch is that the time of the artist is slowly but surely coming to an end as the new, broader, inclusive term of the 'Creative' takes its place. Creatives are characterised by their ability to solve a challenge by coming up with ideas, and the medium does not define the creative as it does with the artist. This runs counter to the arguement all artists are creatives.

The creative can be a software author or a painter. Some creatives are strong on expression, others with ideas, yet others with patterns (mathematical patterns, musical patterns, linguistic patterns, visual patterns). Creatives are playful and demonstrate an independence of mind with a 'can do' attitude. Above all, and unlike the notion of the artist that is still posited by cultural institutions and arts organisations, we are all born creatives.

Definitions of 'Art', 'Artist', and the 'Creative'

From the Collins English Dictionary (Complete and Unabridged):

1. A person who practices or who is skilled in an art
2. A person who displays in their work qualities required in art, such as sensibility and imagination
3. A person whose profession requires artistic expertise
4. A person skilled in some task or occupation
5. A person devoted to or proficient in something

1. The creation of works of beauty or special significance
2. The exercise of human skill (as distinguished from nature)
3. imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination
4. The products of man's creative activity
5. Excellence or aesthetic merit
6. Any branch of the visual arts
7. Any field using the techniques of art to display artistic qualities

From a refrigerator magnet:

ARTIST (ar'tist) n. 1. a) one who practices an art in which conception and execution are governed by imagination, style, and taste. b) a person skilled in one of the fine arts. c) a craftsman that executes his art with individual style. 2. often their work is judged according to the culture and the attitude placed on art at the time. Although they may earn recognition during their lifetime, they are usually not recognized for their accomplishments until after death. 3. Lives a life of unstable economic means. 4. Many theories have been put forth regarding their creativity, the most common one being that it is inherent, although if not developed and tested will remain dormant. a) They seem to create during moods, often intense, mostly lasting only a short while. 5. They have a feeling of brotherhood with each other that is timeless. 6. Thought to be haphazard, having no sense of order, plan, or direction, yet are known to be perfectionists when it comes to their own work. a) They make decisions on feeling rather than reason. b) Have problems with concentration. 7. They are stereotyped as mentally unbalanced. One artist cut off his ear in a passion of creativity combined with frustration about his art. It has not been determined whether their creativity has anything to do with this. 8. They are sensitive, aware, and alert. 9. They are tolerated by society, which allows them to live in accordance with their own natures.

From the Collins English Dictionary (Complete and Unabridged):

1. Having the ability to create
2. Characterised by originality of thought; having or showing imagination
3. Designed to or tending to stimulate the imagination
4. Characterised by sophisticated bending of the rules or conventions


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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