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Breaking down the false artist/non-artist dichotomy, Pt. 1

posted May 27, 2020 in life, the universe and everything

I posit that merely consuming art can be a creative act & it flexes the same muscles as those the artist used in creating the work. If the viewer can appreciate what the artist was doing, they become a collaborator in the creation of art. Just as beauty exists in the eye of the beholder, art exists only in the mind of the consumer. Also, there’s the pervasive idea that the serious artist must hermetically seal herself off from the rest of culture to protect or nurture her unique creative vision — I think this idea can be taken too far. In general, I think both artists & potential artists, that is, everyone, can become more creative by being avid art consumers.

It works like this: The artist creates the work, & the consumer creates the art. Take for example, the novel. The reader adds all sorts of details that are not found in the text. Moreover, the world he adds them to had to be created. The novel’s author, a kind of artist for the purposes of this essay, created a version of this world in her mind when writing, but the reader gives birth to his own version with the author as midwife.

Though the novel might be the most obvious example, the same idea can be extended to all art forms. Abstract visual art is fairly obvious. Can we look at it without asking what those colors & shapes represent? The art patron poses the question to themselves & the creative faculties of mind cannot help but come up with answers. These answers, in part or in full, give rise to the patron’s appreciation of the art work. Both the questions & answers are creative since they are spontaneously generated from each viewer’s unique life experiences.

Representative visual art is not excluded. Take a courtly painting of some unknown madam or gentleman. We inevitably make up a story about who this person was & this story contributes to our enjoyment. But then there’s also the subtlety of the brushwork, & anyone who has ever tried to paint anything before knows how difficult that is & can imagine the years of tireless practice that led to the artist’s mastery. Having insight in to the labor that went in to an end result, in my experience, leads to a deeper appreciation thereof.

Oftentimes the artist is attempting to express something transcendent, beyond the reach of ordinary language. Such is often the case with poetry & lyrics. Examples abound. When Dante writes “Midway on our life’s journey / I found myself in dark woods” we know he’s employing this “dark woods” as a metaphor, & we might be familiar with the historical circumstances of his exile, but his phrasing sets the reader’s imagination to the task of sympathizing with his lot. Emotional states are hard, if not impossible to communicate, & when trying to express the inexpressible, the reader must help.

Since many of us are watching more TV & movies these days thanks to the C19 pandemic, it might come as a relief to know that they’re no exception! Fictional movies & TV shows create worlds unto themselves, but they do not completely explain those worlds. The good ones drop just enough hints to get the viewer’s imagination working on filling in the large gaps. For example, the John Wick movie franchise drops many hints about the protagonist’s storied past, & characters throw around undefined terms like “Continental rules.” These loose ends entice the viewer’s imagination & with a little, mostly subconscious, effort, she is not left confused. So, though often maligned as “brain melting,” TV & movies feed the imagination too.

One final example: Comics! They’re a series of panels, each depicting a moment in a story. But what happens between panels? Skilled comic artists exploit this feature of the comic medium to allow the reader to fill in those gaps.

So go ahead, binge away & perhaps you’ll find you’re more creative than you thought! Though I do not mean to say that merely consuming & the imagination flexing it requires makes consumers of art & artists one & the same. Because of our ability to create, we all have the potential to be artists, but the artist is only set apart from the “non-artist” by the fact that they produce as well as consume. That is, there’s no essential difference. Though I’m far from the most qualified to write it, in part 2 I’ll break down the processes involved in producing works of art, or at least my version of those processes.