The Thing About Artists

Paintbrushes by aidanmorgan, via FlickrThere’s this thing I envy about artists, but it might not be what you think.

Sure, I’m often jealous of their ability to create something beautiful and appealing to the senses, and the way the thing they picture in their mind somehow comes out through their fingers or eyes or mouths looking pretty much like the original.

There certainly have been times I wished I could pull off some of their wardrobe choices. And who wouldn’t want an excuse to browse brushes, paints, pens, instruments, fibers, papers, glazes and tools. Or to feel the medium under your hands or hear the music through your headset and know that the sculpture is emerging from the proverbial marble.

No, the thing that really gets me about artists–especially, I would imagine, those with some level of formal experience–is their ability to stand up in front of people and to articulate the abstract ideas, themes and emotions that went into their work, to explain their process and to own their decisions without the hemming and hawing and self-doubt that most of us exhibit when we’re accepting a compliment on our shoes.

I’m certainly not trying to paint all artists with the same brush (sorry, puns), but lately I have encountered some of the brightest, most well-spoken people, who take full responsibility for their work and for the dreams behind it.

In college I once had the awesome opportunity of spending an afternoon conversation session with author Nick Hornby, who wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that authors (and I think we can substitute “artists”) have to maintain a certain level of immaturity to believe that the world wants to hear what they have to say.

To this day I cannot decide whether this comment is intended to be encouraging or self-deprecating, or whether it’s hopeful or cynical or some of both. I know I have struggled with my own voice as a writer, and according to this yardstick, maybe I’m the one who’s the cynic. But after meeting this handful of artists who are doing any manner of awesome work, I think that Nick Hornby was wrong.

Maybe it’s not about being immature enough to think you’re the best–that may get you part way there, but only part. Instead it’s about finding the creative maturity to take full responsibility for what you have created. To say yes, this thing that you like or hate or praise or criticize or deify or ignore, it’s mine, it’s born of me, and I will continue to travel with it on its journey.

There are a couple of wonderful art opportunities coming up in my town over the next few weeks, and I have plans to go experience some of them. And as I no doubt stand in awe of the artists’ creativity and courage, I imagine I’ll also be looking for the sense of care toward their own art–and hoping I can learn how to cultivate the same.

Photo by aidanmorgan, via Flickr and Creative Commons.

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