Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are you an Artist or a Maker?

I tend to think of myself as a "maker," because "artist" carries a lot of baggage around what people assume an "artist" to be. This is as true for artists as for non-artists.

(Point of order: Not everyone makes "art" or "fine art," or even "arts and crafts," but everyone has creativity as their human birthright. We are all creative in little ways, and in other ways, even if we do not "make art.")

Although I can call myself an Artist, because I have made "fine art" that has hung in galleries and walls in homes, and I do practice several artforms and art skillsets that are recognized as being "fine art," including music composition, poetry, painting, photography, multimedia, and so on, I tend to prefer to use "Maker" because it's a more neutral term. I make stuff. Some of it is art, some of it is just stuff that a creator makes, or a gadget engineer, or an artist making a sketch.

A lot of the baggage that "Artist" carries is cultural stereotypes and hoary romanticized clichés: you have to suffer for your art; artists are lonely, tortured souls who alone in starving squalor; artists are inherently disorganized and incapable of managing their lives; artists are depressed or suicidal drunks; and so on. Note how many clichés about artists are negative rather than positive: that's the cultural narrative since the early Romantic poets, and it's a narrative that's never been more than 25 percent true. For one thing, if artists really were that tortured and depressed all the time, they'd never actually have the energy to make their art.

Even the associated cultural narrative of "the artist's heroic struggle against the world dragging you down, to produce your masterpiece" is more myth than fact; because even artists like myself, who work more from intuition rather than intellect, still make art as a daily prctice, as a mode or way of being. Part of making things is just to make them, every day, as an ordinary activity. Like going to do your job.

For me, making art is a very positive thing, not a negative thing. It's not work I have to force myself to do, or fight to achieve. Making art is as necessary, and as easy, as breathing. It's not a heroic struggle, not even when I'm struggling against physical ailment or depression. You can view making art as therapeutically balancing or expressing life's many problems (glass half empty), or you can view it as transcending and overcoming life's many problems (glass half full). The truth is, making art is what you do, whether you're having a bad month or a good one; you just keep making art, no matter what. It can be your everyday salvation, it can give you reason to go on living, it can be the routine, the one constant in your life while everything else is falling apart.

Ironically, even though there are many "positive thinkers" out there who probably think I'm negativity personified (probably because I reject their simplistic aphorisms in favor of more nuanced and realistic overviews), in truth I'm very optimistic and positive about the benefits of expanding creativity in one's life to the utmost. I do think it's good that we all make art of some kind, even if no one but you ever sees it or knows you do it. The purpose of making a painting isn't to become a famous painter, it's just to make a painting; fame is often quite accidental, and capricious. And fickle. I make a lot of sketches and other little things that no one ever sees; they're not good enough to share, period. (The only reason you'll ever see early drafts or sketch versions is because I'm interested in the creative process for its own sake, and I sometimes like to examine a piece from inception to completion to see what happens during the process.)

For my recent art installation, "The Temple of Deep Time" (one of ten corn crib installations at Silverwood County Park), I had an overall conception, an early and immediate vision that I had when I first visited Silverwood, and saw the spiral tree rounds and the corn cribs there, and the end result was in fact very close to the original vision, and written proposal. And in order to get to completion, I had to use almost all of my skills as a creative person (the use of combinations of which is the very definition of "multimedia"), including: graphic design, computer work, photography, drawing, carpentry, math skills, a little bit of programming (in collaboration), getting up on ladders and doing construction, weaving, lighting design, electrical wiring, laser and solar technology, research into weather and solar annual variations, music composition, recording studio production skills, illustration, typography, paper arts, woodworking, calligraphy, and more. Even with this list, I've probably left something out.

So all of that went into making this art installation. And I did it all in about six or seven weeks, from inception to completion. (With a few details added later.) and last night I spent several hours doing long-exposure night photography (which I have taught) and HD video, to document the night-time aspects of my art installation, The Temple of Deep Time. The piece is about time, in multiple ways, on several layers, from past to future. Every element and aspect of the piece is a meditation on time, in some way. That is why I included a laser light show, and a music playback system: music is a timebound art, it has duration, then it ends. Music is an artform you cannot experience without time. It's only appropriate that it both in or porters time-bound arts as part of its design, and also requires being documented over time, using time-shifting as well as time-bound technologies. I will at some point do a time-lapse video of the installation, as well.

To make this art installation I used many skills beyond those (assumed to be) reserved for fine art. In truth, I don't draw a strong distinction between making things and making art.

All of this is why Maker seems to suit what I do better than Artist. If we must have labels or titles or categories. Honestly, labels and categories are for theory, which serves to describe what has been made. But I don't think about any of this when I'm making. I just Make.

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