Can Anyone Be an Artist?

Sculpture of Daedalus

Bronze sculpture of Daedalus

Seth Godin says anyone can be an artist. Without even becoming an artist:

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paint or marble, sure. But there are artists who worked with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

(Linchpin, Seth Godin)

He argues that the Industrial Revolution, which has shaped our culture and attitude to work for so long, has now run its course, and is in fact an aberration:

Imagine a stack of 400 quarters. Each quarter represents 250 years of human culture, and the entire stack signifies the 100,000 years we’ve had organised human tribes. Take the top quarter of the stack. This one quarter represents how many years our society has revolved around factories and jobs and the world as we see it. The other 399 coins stand for a very different view of commerce, economy, and culture. Our current view might be the new normal, but the old normal was around for a very long time.

(Linchpin, Seth Godin)

Because of the emergence of the creative economy, the factory has ” fallen apart” – creativity is now the number one economic priority and “success means being an artist”. Bad news for Lou. Great news for Jack and Marla.

Inevitably, Linchpin has provoked protests from those who believe there is something sacred about art and artists, and that calling businesspeople ‘artists’ flatters them and demeans the term:

Art is a special and élite area. So is being a NASA astronaut, a Math Professor or a wedding cake maker but that does not make these people artists. And a formally trained and educated artist can do and think about things that the vast, majority of people out there cannot do – no matter how hard you make a power-point presentation or plan a product launch.

Think about it this way – I believe that any artist can get into a business or arts program, or even an engineering program if they try hard enough. Isn’t that what those motivational posters tell us? Conversely, there are only a few people who are able to get into a Fine Arts studio program. The difference? They have a talent, and not because they are good at listening to a client and trying really hard.

(‘Uh Oh, Seth Godin Is Flatter Marketing with the Word “Art”‘, The ArtListPro blog)

Actually, the ‘artist’ bit isn’t even the most outrageous claim Godin makes in Linchpin:

You Are a Genius

No one is a genius all the time. Einstein had trouble finding his house when he walked home from work every day. But all of us are geniuses sometimes.

(Linchpin, Seth Godin)

At this point, you might expect to hear squawks of protest from Lateral Action, given that I’ve already said you don’t need to be a genius to be a creative success. But semantics aside, Seth and I are really saying the same thing: don’t put others on a lofty pedestal and label them ‘geniuses’ whom you could never hope to emulate. It may feel like modesty, but it’s actually an excuse. Michelangelo’s story shows us that the biggest differences between geniuses and the rest of us are not God-given talent and supernatural intelligence, but things like work, passion, critical thinking, courage and persistence – which are within the reach of all of us, once we commit.

Reading Linchpin reminded me of one of my favourite books about the creative process, The Art of Work by Roger Coleman, which was the inspiration for my piece about Michelangelo. Coleman is an ‘artist turned craftsman’ and Professor of Design who challenges our received assumptions about the nature of art:

The history of art is really the history of skilled work – no more, no less – and when we marvel at the products of other periods and cultures, we marvel at the achievements of a tradition of skilled work, not ‘art’.

(The Art of Work, Roger Coleman)

Earlier cultures, he argues, would not have distinguished between the artist and the craftsman — they were one and the same, no matter how accomplished or refined the work. The word ‘art’ simply meant ‘skill’ or ‘work’. Shakespeare used the word in this sense when he wrote “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face”. And according to my Oxford English Dictionary the primary meaning of the word is still “human creative skill or its application”.

For Roger Coleman, this original artistic tradition is personified in the figure of Daedalus, the fabled artisan and inventor of Greek mythology:

Daedalus is the archetypal craftsman: inventor and engineer; architect and builder; artist and sculptor; designer of labyrinths; maker of wings; problem solver and toymaker. In short, the virtuoso exponent of all that is skilful, inventive, constructive and creative.

(The Art of Work, Roger Coleman)

In other words he didn’t confine his creative energies to paint or marble. He also got his hands dirty solving problems in the real world. His work was breathtaking but not perfect – as his son Icarus found to his cost.

Like Godin, Coleman blames the Industrial Revolution for stifling this tradition of art-as-skilled-work:

It was the Industrial Revolution that finally distorted our understanding of the daedalic tradition by demanding an absolute distinction between work – labour that could be exploited in the factories and fields of the nineteenth century – and an art that was to be revered and idolised as close to genius. In its original use the word art meant skill and the exercise of skill – we still use the word in this sense – but it was only in the late nineteenth century that the words art and artist developed their modern meanings. At the same time another word – artisan – was co-opted to distinguish the skilled manual worker from the intellectual, imaginative or creative artist, and artists emerged as a very special category of cultural workers, producing a rare and marginal commodity – works of art.

(The Art of Work, Roger Coleman)

So if you feel nostalgic for the good old days, when pure artists pursued their noble calling unsullied by the world of commerce and practical problems, I hate to break it to you but that’s actually a manufactured modern myth. Not only that, the myth has served a pretty basic purpose: marketing. What better way to avoid the daily grind of the factory and get sky-high prices for your work than to persuade the world that the productions of your pen/paintbrush/chisel are the effusions of artistic genius? Nice work if you can get it.

I’m not saying individual artists are this cynical, or even this aware of what’s been happening. But I am saying that true artists can work in any medium, and that artistic types (who include me) have no right to look down their noses at those who are outstandingly “skilful, inventive, constructive and creative” in other fields of work.

What Do You Think?

Should we reserve the term ‘artist’ for those who work in the arts?

Is it possible to be an artist in business, education, childcare, construction – or other non-artistic professions?

What difference would it make to your work if you decided to approach it as an artist?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. I’m reading Linchpin now and loving it. I appreciate Godin’s use of the word ‘artist’ – anyone who moves others with their work. He’s talking about bringing the artistry of the self to bear on work, and insisting that being that artist – sharing our own creative expression – is vital in today’s economy.

    On my first business card as a coach, I put this quotation:

    “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.” M.C. Richards

    That pretty much sums it up for me – how we live is an expression of our creative gifts. The work we do can be a tangible result of our artistry, whether we’re painting on a canvas or coaching someone to their brilliance.

    What are you making, what change are you effecting? If you’re doing something on your own initiative, chances are you’re an artist.

    I also very much appreciated Godin’s pieces about emotional labor and resistance. The emotional labor of creating anything can be enormous – overcoming internal and external inhibitions, coming to grips with fear of failure, being brave and willing enough to step out of the tribe and do something different – these are the invisible efforts that contribute to being an artist who ships, and this work isn’t often acknowledged.

    I’m excited about Linchpin. I’m less concerned about clinging to a strict definition of what an artist is or isn’t. Richard Florida pushed this envelope when he included lawyers and businesspeople in the ‘creative class’.

    I love Linchpin’s call to let go of the old ways that are crumbling around us. The means of production is now in the hands of anyone who wants it – and is willing to take them up and use them.

  2. Telling people on the ArtListPro blog that “any one of you can get into any business program, but only you special few have the talent to get into a fine arts program.” And Seth is the one “flatter marketing”. Okay, I’m glad they cleared that up for us.

  3. I’m with you and Seth on this one, Mark. The labels merely block people out of potential areas of interest, or they keep people in jobs that are seen as not creative from seeing how truly creative they are. I trained as an artist and I hate these sorts of labels. (Although, if you’re a creative type, you’ll just ignore the labels anyway and do what you want.)

    You touched on something that perhaps you could expand upon. I think the primary difference between the Industrial Age and the new creative economy is critical thinking, which includes an ability to question authority. The Industrial Age with its factories depended upon its workers behaving like sheep. Our school systems are currently set up this way. I’m afraid our political system has also moved in this direction. If we want to be creative, we have to engage in critical thinking, which is going to make people following these old systems very uncomfortable.

  4. thanks so much Mark

    this post is right on. you made my day.

    seth

  5. I’m with Seth on this one. Genius is common. And artists are people who get things done. Of course from there, you need to work out if the art is for you…does it have value?

  6. When you dance, you are, for that moment, ‘a dancer’, whether you’re a trained one or not. When you’re playing basketball you are, in that moment, ‘a basketball player’, whether you’re in the NBA or not. (I’m a writer, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen writer defined as ‘one who writes’, whether you’re published or not — which means that in order to keep being a ‘writer’, I have to keep writing, and publication itself is kind of beside the point.)

    When you’re engaged in the act of making something that didn’t exist before — making *meaning* out of something — you’re an artist. It’s kind of ironic that certain people trained in the arts will complain (often rightly) that the culture doesn’t appreciate them or value what they do, and then turn around and insist that what they do is so elite that only a chosen few can actually appreciate it. We appreciate and are interested in the things that have meaning for us, that are personally relevant to us, and if art-making was seen as something innate to our nature and woven into the fabric of everyday life — as something that we simply are and do — then maybe artists would command the kind of mainstream fascination that athletes do and the culture would be much richer for it.

    Human beings *need* to be creative, and the fact that the Industrial Revolution — and the school system it brought into being — drummed this belief into people that only a chosen few can or should be ‘creative’ robs them of a dimension of living and perceiving that is our natural birthright. I love Seth’s book because it brings the concept of artistry into the realm of the everyday, where it belongs — and if certain individuals find that threatening, you have to wonder just how good they are at being ‘artists’ — day-in, day-out — in the first place.

  7. Almost everyone I know or have ever met has a “creative” aspect to themselves, often without awareness of that label. I am in awe of those who come up with solutions to everyday problems and can implement their experience to solve, make, or communicate things that they know and can do. Everyone has gifts that can contribute to the overall beauty, creativity, and well being of the rest of us and I think we are all gradually coming to realize this. Children need the arts in school even if they never become so-called “artists.” The experience will enhance their lives and help them find their own form of creativity whether it be in business, economics, science, parenting, medicine, teaching, or being a really great plumber!

  8. Emma Jarrett says:

    Thanks so much for this post.

    It is very timely for me, having just witnessed the brilliance and hard work of Leonardo da Vinci in his Anatomical Manuscripts (lent to the Vancouver Art Gallery for the 2010 Winter Olympics by The Queen’s Collection until Sunday 2 May).

    I was in awe of his ability to dissect, observe, sketch and annotate all that he saw. I have studied nothing quite like it in all my anatomical training. His ability to draw and describe the movement of the body was, and possibly is, unparalleled.

    However, every time I speak of it, I am met with “He was such a genius!” which all but ends the conversation. No-one seems to want to discuss his life, the era and area in which he lived and worked, his seeking out of experts in their field from whom he could learn and the hours of work involved.

    So I’ll be sharing your post with many and referring to it whenever I now get the opportunity to counter the Genius Myth. It is such an abdication of responsibility in this modern world of Experts and Champions.

  9. 100 % agree with Seth & Mark. You know a month ago when we were forming Pakistan’s first social media agency. There was one thing which was in my mind, i.e Communication is an Art (even in social media too).

    Very glad to read this post. 🙂

  10. @ Cynthia – Thanks, and great quotation. Yes emotional labor and Resistance are key parts of the book. Watch this space for more about Resistance on Lateral Action…

    @ Drew – Thank goodness for that. 😉

    @ Mary – Excellent point about critical thinking, I hadn’t looked at it that way before. It’s easy to focus on the ‘fresh ideas’ aspect of the creative economy, but not only is critical thinking essential for creativity, it’s a challenge to authoritarian structures.

    @ Seth – My pleasure! Thanks for the inspiration.

    @ Dennis – The value question is a big one. Is it value for the artist or the audience? Or both?

    @ Justine –

    It’s kind of ironic that certain people trained in the arts will complain (often rightly) that the culture doesn’t appreciate them or value what they do, and then turn around and insist that what they do is so elite that only a chosen few can actually appreciate it.

    Very true. And I usually find the ones who are busiest making art are the least possessive about the title of ‘artist’.

    @ Karen – I’m waiting for a bit of plumber’s creativity in my kitchen right now. 🙂 You might find this piece of interest re child / adult creativity: Is Everyone Creative?

    @ Emma – Yes, the ‘genius’ label is a sure-fire way to close down an interesting conversation. Have you seen Michael Gelb’s book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci? Highly recommended.

    @ Wagas – Absolutely. Why aim low in our communication because it’s ‘just’ social media? It’s what we choose to make it. Good luck with the agency.

  11. Norman Haldeman says:

    *waves to Justine* Small world. =)

    To respond:

    I’m new to being a “professional artist”, but I’ve already encountered problems with the definition of the term.

    Personally, I’d tend to agree with the thought that everyone is an artist in their own right and it can be applied to effectively, any application.

    Professionally though, more and more I am being forced to disagree with it. And it’s not a matter of ego, or an attempt at elitism, it’s just a matter of survival. I can easily understand why some might take it too far and start trying to proclaim certain things as genius, even if I don’t agree with it.

    The problem is, that if you agree with the thought that anyone can create art, or be artistic in what they do (completely reasonable) they translate that to mean they know and can do the art itself as well as you (completely unreasonable).

    I honestly find it almost strange that the post is concerned with artists looking down their noses at others, because my experience and all those I’ve known and worked with in this field, and in the artist communities I frequent, the situation is entirely reversed. We’re looked at as valueless. And the whole “avoid the factory grind” comment seems very odd to me as most of us have to work far longer hours than factory associated jobs.

    Effectively, the principle of the post I don’t have an issue with. But, I am aware of how most will apply it and so that becomes the matter of contention. I have no issue with art being labelled as a learned skill. But, most will (and do) ignore that it requires concentrated effort.

    I guess in the end I have to ask, why is it important that the artist label be given to anyone, why is the term creative insufficient? How do we avoid the confusion then?

    And also, does this mean you believe other professions should have their titles disseminated? (E.g. if you deal with legal aspects at all, you’re also lawyer, if you deal with finances at all, you’re an accountant as well, etc). And if not, why not? What’s the difference between those and this?

  12. My kids are artists – in everything they do. They put all their effort and sometimes body in it. They forget everything around them and concentrate on what they are doing. They give it their all and don’t care what others think. And when they are finished they go ‘Ta Dah!’ – convinced that it is the most beautiful, brilliant piece on earth (whether it’s a painting, a Lego construction, a flower bouquet, a jump across a stream or a hug).
    Do we give things our all? Do we put all our might and body into our passion? No. Because we were told that we are not artists. But we are. So I say: go create, every day. And the more you create the better you become. Whether it’s paintings or powerpoint presentation, or running, or even cleaning your house. Make it artsy, not artificial.

  13. @ Norman – Thanks for the thoughtful comment, I’ve got a lot of sympathy with the points you make.

    The problem is, that if you agree with the thought that anyone can create art, or be artistic in what they do (completely reasonable) they translate that to mean they know and can do the art itself as well as you (completely unreasonable).

    But, I am aware of how most will apply it and so that becomes the matter of contention. I have no issue with art being labelled as a learned skill. But, most will (and do) ignore that it requires concentrated effort.

    I’ll go further than that – the problem is that whatever you say to human beings, there’s a danger that they’ll translate it to suit their own convenience! 🙂 But I can’t write to accommodate the people who do that. And if you have a look through the archives here at Lateral Action, you’ll see we have a lot to say about the importance of concentrated effort in creative work.

    I honestly find it almost strange that the post is concerned with artists looking down their noses at others, because my experience and all those I’ve known and worked with in this field, and in the artist communities I frequent, the situation is entirely reversed. We’re looked at as valueless. And the whole “avoid the factory grind” comment seems very odd to me as most of us have to work far longer hours than factory associated jobs.

    Well firstly I think the example I quoted does come across as pretty disdainful. I don’t think it’s typical of all artists, but of a vocal minority. (My own medium is poetry, and we certainly have our share of these folks in the poetry world!)

    Secondly, I think the “most of us” you refer to is important here. I’m not having a go at “most” artists, but the star system that elevates the lucky/canny few to the status of demigods, consigning the rest to work insanely long hours for little reward. Whereas if I understand Coleman aright, he’s saying that the older system of craft guilds meant that rewards and status were much more evenly distributed. The guilds were definitely hierarchical and competitive, but if you served your apprenticeship and produced your ‘masterpiece’ (in the old sense of a piece of sufficiently accomplished work to qualify you for the title of ‘Master’) then you could be much more confident of reaping the rewards.

    I guess in the end I have to ask, why is it important that the artist label be given to anyone, why is the term creative insufficient? How do we avoid the confusion then?

    And also, does this mean you believe other professions should have their titles disseminated? (E.g. if you deal with legal aspects at all, you’re also lawyer, if you deal with finances at all, you’re an accountant as well, etc). And if not, why not? What’s the difference between those and this?

    I think the issue here is that the word ‘artist’ is being used in two senses: (a) to describe vocation (the ‘artist’ with paintbrush) and (b) to describe achievement (someone whose work in whatever field is so good as to merit the description ‘art’).

    My take on Seth’s book is that he’s not trying to diminish the status of artists or promote a phoney sense of equality based on mediocrity. Quite the reverse – he’s challenging people working in any profession to raise their game to the (almost) impossibly high standards of genuine artists.

    Re your question about other titles and professions, I’ll take poetry as an example, as that’s the art I practise. I don’t have a problem with the word ‘poetry’ being applied to work in other fields. Lots of novels I’ve read have had passages of writing that easily qualify as poetry. W.H. Auden defined poetry as ‘memorable speech’, which would qualify great orators, comedians, salespeople, counsellors, teachers and even lawyers and politicians. (NB I’m talking about ‘the truly great’ ones, not the average.) And as a football fan I have no hesitation in describing some of the feats of the likes of Pele, Lionel Messi and Henrik Larsson as ‘poetry’. I don’t find it that hard to distinguish this kind of ‘poet’, from the ‘poet’ who writes in verse.

    @ Mimi – “And the more you create the better you become.” – This is a key point for me. True artists are those who combine the passion and commitment of a child with the critical thinking and high standards of an adult.

  14. In ancient Greece, the actors were priests. They were there not only to entertain, but to be as the face of the Gods. They interpreted the Gods’ will for the people and took them through a cathartic journey that allowed them to be cleansed and to glance, even for just a moment, the undefined Forms of what life could be like (Forms as defined by Aristotle’s Poetics). Sculptors and painters did the same thing in the temples and religious rites of the Greeks.

    This history of artists being interpreters of the Gods (continued by the Catholic church in the Middle Ages) is what makes artists put themselves on a pedestal. It’s a nice idea if you’re an artist – although completely impractical in the sense of using it to define yourself in business.

    I do think that incredibly talented artists, the ones who are truly inspired beyond the regular masses, do stand apart in their own right – but these standouts are incredibly rare.

    Most artists are like the rest of the society – they’re good at what they do, to varying degrees, and their skills are valued at different levels – and in that sense, I have no problem with Godin’s assertion that anyone can be an artist. People can be inspired by what they do.

    That said, even the incredible geniuses of past times had many practical skills on top of the artistry that they produced. Leonardo da Vinci was an engineer. Einstein was a mathemetician and an accomplished violinist. Picasso was a business man. Calder was an engineer first, who then became an artist later.

    People are much more complex than we give them credit for, and over a lifetime people can accomplish incredible things. I think that people can become artists, even if that’s not how they start their lives.

  15. Norman Haldeman says:

    Thanks for the response Mark.

    I haven’t had a chance to read any of the other articles here, but it is on my never shrinking to-do list now. =) This has me curious on the remainder, certainly.

    In regards to the small minority causing issues… Can’t disagree there. I’ve certainly been smacked around by those that you describe, and I’ve heard stories of the same from my peers. There are those who certainly don’t deserve the accolades they get, or can’t justify their actions towards others (some modern art comes to mind)… But I’d just humbly ask that such quantifiers be very clear when commenting on the subject. Just as it both prevents a misunderstanding and also because then it won’t influence the view of artists on the whole in a negative way. I was linked here by some unhappy peers, but based on your response I’d say there’s no real issue… it just wasn’t that clear in the initial post. None of us like the “false gods” as it were, but this did give the impression that we were all that way. And I haven’t had the chance to read Seth’s original piece, but perhaps the responses there were for the same reason.

    I’ll also say, that artists may be sensitive, perhaps overly so to these issues. Even though I’m new to the field, I do often feel like we’re in a profession under siege from all sides. Be it either the stars you mention belittling their peers, giving artists a bad name, or business entities dismissing the work or effort involved, not living up to contracts/payments or just outright stealing from the get go, as well as a number of other sources. Just to illustrate, I was at a convention this weekend actually (Calgary Expo) with a number of artists and went to a couple of panels. The discussion always included advice on how to try and survive, and it was usually a very grim picture. The first thing a group of veterans of decades with very high profile work discussed in their panel was abuse of artists because they felt it was the most important issue. In another, the lack of a Canadian guild for artists was lamented. Heck, just last week I was taken advantage of by someone who’d commissioned me for work for the expo (they’d promised one amount, gave me less citing money issues and then proceeded to show me the hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise they’d purchased from other exhibitors).

    Basically, I guess my point is that unless it’s clear that we’re not under attack, we have to assume we are simply because the vast majority of the time, it’s the truth. The message the communities give at this point is that things are so bad we have to respond directly or we’re going to be buried even further.

    It might sound a bit melodramatic, but it seems to be the reality and I offer it up as perhaps a reason why reactions are so strong.

    And I think it leads into that last subject of the use of the word artist as a descriptor as well potentially. I’d first like to say thank you for the clarification, it helps certainly. And again, on a personal level I can’t disagree with it at all. I feel the same way, some things I saw in the recent Olympics come to mind as examples. It may be that we are both preaching to each other while in the same choir… but the section of it I’m included in is distinctly worried about the looters and pillagers making their way through our ranks ;P And we get even more worried because many can’t/don’t/won’t make the distinction and might join in.

    Another way to say it perhaps, is that even if you can’t write to accommodate such types, we need to/need to respond, if even just to try and stem the flood of negative culture.

    And I hope that made sense, I honestly find it hard to articulate this subject because of the complexity. It seems difficult trying to strike the balance between it all. Really, there are a lot of days where I wish I could be creating something beautiful to share with people… rather than needing to read endless documents on copyright, or worry about a payment that is months late, or debate a subject I don’t really disagree with ;P But, it’s become very evident, for new artists especially, that it’s needed for survival.

    Be well.

  16. @ Cory – Thanks, great stuff. People (and art) are indeed complex.

    I do think that incredibly talented artists, the ones who are truly inspired beyond the regular masses, do stand apart in their own right – but these standouts are incredibly rare.

    I think Seth is trying to encourage us to make them less rare.

    @ Norman –

    I do often feel like we’re in a profession under siege from all sides.

    I’m tempted to say you should try writing poetry. 🙂 At least some people pay decent money for art, whereas nobody pays serious money for poems. And I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me quite bluntly they “don’t like poetry” – and when I ask them, of course they haven’t tried reading any contemporary poetry!

    But joking aside, you may well be right that about ‘sensitivity’ on the part of artists. Another reason for sensitivity is one I’ve touched on before – as creators we put so much of ourselves into our work, that it’s very hard not to take any (perceived) criticisms personally. As Flaubert said, ‘A book is essentially organic, part of ourselves. We tear a length of gut from our bellies and serve it up’.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking comments.

  17. Seth and Mark have truly nailed it: Genius and creativity have become elitist concepts in very recent history.

    Elizabeth Gilbert has a fabulous TED talk on the subject (http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html).

    She points out that the ancient Romans believed creativity was a magical attending spirit, sort of like a guardian angel (or Dobby the house elf) that lived in the walls of your studio. Not only did it assist you with your work, it also shaped the outcome.

    They called this spirit a Genius, and every artist had one. If your work flopped, your colleagues realized it just meant your Genius was taking a day off. It would be around again tomorrow because, you know, it lived there.

    Anyway, thanks for the extensive quotes from Linchpin. I was ignoring it because my reading list is overflowing, but now I need to check it out!

  18. I don’t think the term “artists” really has ever been reserved for those who work in “the arts.” Certainly not in my life or the circles I live in.

    Coleman described the issue so much better than Godin, to the point that Godin’s book is unnecessary and just muddies up the waters. I had to put it down about two-thirds of the way through – just a new spin on an idea that has already been penned by others over the last half century. Some writers used the term “craft” and “craftsman” instead of “art” and “artist”, but they spoke of the same thing.

    It’s good if Linchpin encourages some to stop being just a cog in the machine and actually start creating. But it’s just another motivational book, nothing more.

  19. @ Elle – Yes, I love Gilbert’s take on the idea of genius. I wrote about her talk a while ago: Is Creativity Divinely Inspired?

    @ Dan –

    I don’t think the term “artists” really has ever been reserved for those who work in “the arts.”

    Have another look at my article and you’ll see a quotation from ArtListPro that provides evidence to the contrary.

    But it’s just another motivational book, nothing more.

    If you read Linchpin as carefully as you read my article, you probably missed the important bits.

  20. Hiya Mark –

    Boy, people do not like the word “elite” do they?

    Someone who writes great fiction is not an artist – they are a writer. Someone who composes music is not an artist – they are a composer. Someone who acts on stage is an actor. Someone who designs a building is an architect. etc, etc. I find every field has it’s own designation for a high level of achievement – including business.

    Often the specialness of being an artist is diluted by the attitude that it is for children to experience and adults to muck around with on Sundays, and those of us who labour at it all our lives are elitist in our social and economic realities. Some of the comments here very much reflect this attitude, I think.

    In reality, an artist is not just a skilled craft labourer but also a businessman, an alchemist, a researcher, a designer, a project manager and many other hats at the same time. And yes, anyone can be an artist but must work at it and be tenacious and dedicated long enough to be slightly affronted by Seth’s use of the term and amused by my exasperated rant about it 😉

    I’m not going to “win” this argument though – my post and blog is for a niche of working arts and culture professionals, not the vastly larger community of business and motivational leadership.

    One more thing – Seth’s book “The Dip” inspired me to make and stick with my blog. Props and respect to the guy.

  21. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for responding. I think we can agree that words have different meanings for different audiences. What works for our readers won’t necessarily work for yours.

    I stick by my comment above that ‘artist’ is being used in different senses:

    (a) to describe vocation (the ‘artist’ with paintbrush) and (b) to describe achievement (someone whose work in whatever field is so good as to merit the description ‘art’).

    I’m actually more ‘elitist’ than some when it comes to the latter sense. E.g. in my own field, I agree with Robert Graves when he said lots of us might call ourselves ‘poets’, but it’s only a courtesy title – there are very few real poets.

    All the best,
    Mark

  22. It might have been silently included in the scope of ‘artist’ for many, but I’d like to point out that writers occupy exactly the same position… there’s this reverence for ‘creative’ writing, and disdain for commercial influence.

    I suppose music and all other forms of art are the same… but from a literary background (especially), and as someone whose profession (government) is about creating words – writing is an example that virtually all of us would resonate with.

  23. I believe everyone is an artist, because we are all unique.
    For example, no two people have the same fingerprints, exact physical features, exact experiences, or exact views. Therefore, I believe we are all artist.

    Aside from dictionary or society definition of art, art is a unique expression that inspires.

    Yes, I believe it is possible to be an artist in business, education, childcare, construction – or other non-artistic professions.

    The key is to learn where and how to showcase our art.

    In my opinion, what’s even more valuable is seeing the art in others.

  24. @ JohnB – As a writer myself, I can confirm we are included in the term ‘artist’. 😉

    @ Marcy – I’d say our uniqueness makes us all potential artists. As you point out, “art is a unique expression that inspires” so we all have to make the choice whether to express it or not.

  25. “Every child is an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist after you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

    I think it’s like the term “consultant” – anyone who can provide advice on a subject can call themselves one. I don’t think it really matters what we call ourselves or anyone else – what matters is the value we can deliver, the relationships we maintain, and the world we create.

    On the note of an artisan economy – I thought this article by The Economist was thought-provoking as it talks about manufacturing on a micro scale. In other words, the huge factories of the Industrial Revolution and the cities built around them will be far less important since production will be something that happens in our garages or local shops.

    http://www.economist.com/node/18114327

    We may see a return to what society looked like before the Industrial Revolution – a lot of microenterprises (like artisans) and a few large organizations employing many people (like the Dutch East India Company or the navy). Intuit’s report on the economic trends of the next decade support this idea of a “barbell” economy: http://http-download.intuit.com/http.intuit/CMO/intuit/futureofsmallbusiness/intuit_2020_report.pdf

    Hope this helps. Mark, thanks for the thoughtful conversation.

  26. This is sort of coming from the opposite direction, but the way I’ve managed to get around a mental block. Although a trained Primary school Music teacher, my present job is as school secretary-a thankless dogsbody. It took some resentment and self scolding to make me treat myself as a ‘staff faciliator’ before I reconciled myself to not being a teacher (I love teaching). As a facilitator I can do everything possible to make the school run smoothly and lift mundane and tedious work from the staff, like photocopying, typing documents, proofreading, cleaning the staffroom, stocking stationary, dealing with timewasters and parents who just needed information rather than professional advice, etc.
    Behold I convinced myself I have a worthwhile job!

  27. Art is whatever one ones it to be.