Not Everyone Is An Artist
So when I edited the third part of my essay on the Politics of Cultural Production in Theater, a bunch of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor for future consideration. This didn’t end up in the article but I still feel like it bears consideration:
Speaking of art and labor, I found it interesting that, during the Long Table on Social Practice in Performance a major thread of discussion was about how to refer to community members involved in the process. One person referred to them as “non-artist participants” and another took umbrage saying that calling them “non-artist” is like referring to people as “non-white”. Which is not only silly but reveals a fascinating lack of self-awareness of how much our field inflates its own importance. As if being an artist conveyed the same privilege as being white. Bah, humbug. Being an artist is a job just like being a plumber. Just because I occasionally fix my leaky toilet or replace the pipes under my sink doesn’t make me a plumber. Nor does occasionally making art or being involved in an art project designate me an artist. Not everyone is an artist, nor should they be.
Personally, I believe everyone is creative in some way, but actually self-defining as an artist is about delineating a specific set of skills and abilities that one studies, practices and refines over time. This self-designation often coincides with a series of ambitions to be pursued that include, but are not limited to: technical and aesthetic accomplishment, critical appreciation, audience awareness and recognition, and financial success. These may or may not come over time depending on a given artist’s gifts. And while some artists have extraordinary gifts, so do plumbers, software engineers and physicians. Genius-level creativity manifests in many forms, so let’s lose the notion that being an artist is anything special.
While I largely agree with Beuys’ concept of social sculpture, (and am not well-versed enough to know it in detail) I resist the idea that everyone is or must be an artist. Everyone is capable of making art, everyone is capable of expressing their innate creativity in some way, but the practice of actually being an artist is work, it is labor, it is a practice of making that requires intentionality, skill and craft.