Have you ever defended your lack of sales by saying, “I’m an Artist“? You may be right.
Yesterday morning, a deluge trapped me in the picnic shelter at the dog park with one of the other hard-core regulars. In talking about the house he was looking for, “Dave” said his fiance “Sue” had lusted after an inner-city building with one floor converted into a gallery.
I didn’t know Sue was an artist. Dave explained that she had always been too critical of her work and wound up giving it away, trashing it or painting over it. Then she went to NYC a few years ago and was disgusted with the art in the Museums. “She said, ‘my stuff was way better than this,’ and she was right.”
I began reflecting on my own creative journey with various mediums, and how attitude affects our chances for real world success. I decided there were three types of creative people. Dilettantes, Artists, and Craftsmen (or Crafts-women, or Crafts-people, or just plain Crafters).
I like to sing. I used to hold concerts in my car during long solo drives. On two memorable occasions, I sang back-up with friends. I used to indulge in fantasies about being onstage, singing in front of thousands of screaming fans. In my head, I auditioned for Simon Cowell and blew him away (yeah, right). Today I make up funny songs to sing to my dogs. They have multiple verses and everything. I imagine it would be fun to make a record of doggie songs one day. Meanwhile, I only sing them for my four-footers.
Notice how I’ve never had lessons, never submitted my singing to scrutiny, never worked at it, and my main value in singing is fun. I don’t do it on a regular basis. I’m easily distracted from it and have no true commitment to it. I fantasize that I’m fabulous without doing anything to get that way.
When it comes to singing, I’m a dilettante. And that’s okay as long as you know that’s what you are. The problem comes in when someone deludes themselves into thinking they will actually accomplish something of value someday. It has nothing to do with talent, of which the dilettante may have much or little.
The dilettante may actually be talented in so many things that they can’t make up their mind what they want to do. They may be serial monogamists, taking on one passion after another and dropping them when it gets tough or boring, or they may be polygamists, doing so many things at once that they never get beyond amateur status with any of it.
Being a Dilettante has everything to do with attitude, which with the Dilettante is an unwillingness to commit to one thing; to work at their medium, evaluate it with a critical eye and stick with it despite obstacles.
I’ve been an artist all my life. I knew I was going to be a painter when I was in grade school. I totally identified with being a painter. I sold my first painting at the age of fifteen and had my first art show when I was nineteen. I went to college to study art. While I was in grad school, I told one of the other TA’s, “If I only had enough money to either eat or buy art supplies, I would by the supplies because someone will always feed me, but they won’t necessarily buy me bronze.” (I was casting statuettes at the time). I was in the studio every day and wrapped my entire life around art.
The Artist has a voice that must express itself. Sometimes it feels like channeling, with unexpected results. Always, the work justifies itself and must manifest as it must be, according to the inner urging of the artist. They rail against limitations imposed on their creativity by outside sources, such as size requirements for submission to shows, or the necessity to work according to someone else’s deadline.
The Artist is usually compelled to share their work somewhere, somehow, and is willing to accept criticism. Despite the validity of the criticism, their inner voice is their god, and their work is more precious than life.
Nothing pissed me off more than someone else picking up a paintbrush and doing something to one of my pieces. I take that back. there is one thing. While I may occasionally destroy something as not good enough, you’d better not. It’s the one way guaranteed to end our relationship. Just ask my ex-husband.
The Artist constantly strives to transcend their limitations and conversely, may stop producing in a popular body of work because they “have nothing more to say” about that particular subject. The object serves as a vehicle for a higher purpose. They often define themselves as a “process person.” They literally get high off their work and if they go too long without being creative, they become depressed.
The Artist desires recognition and often deserves it, but usually rebels against the necessity of marketing and of compromising their work to suit the market place. They find it impossible to put a price tag on it. Artists are often offended that someone would buy a painting to have “something pretty that matches the sofa.” Discussing your decorating scheme with an Artist is likely to result in fisticuffs.
A Craftsman loves what they do, but they are able to balance their work with external realities and the market place. The things they create have a purpose, whether is it to hold their coffee, look pretty on someone’s neck or entertain. Their mantra is “form follows function” and they use external limitations, such as the size of a room or its color scheme (or genre norms such as page length and themes) as springboards for their creativity. Their pleasure comes from creating a fine thing that goes out into the world and serves its purpose.
While an Artist serves their work, the Craftsman’s work serves him/her. They understand that people only buy what they want, and if you want to sell to them, you need to provide what they’re willing to buy. They expect to profit from their work and budget their investment into each project accordingly. They know when their work is “good enough” and are willing to let it go out into the world without being absolutely perfect.
They have a professional attitude about selling the output of their creative impulses and dealing with the marketplace does not make them feel dirty. They understand the concept of branding and providing a consistent product. Business people find them easy to deal with and will choose to partner with them over more talented individuals for that reason.
Craftsmen also have the healthiest response to criticism. Their assessment of their abilities is realistic and they do not identify with their work the way the Artist does. Like anyone else, they may get nervous when they put their creative efforts out before the public, but it’s not their guts hanging on display.
Most of the successful artists in the high art world have at least some Craftsman in them. It’s a dirty little secret, but the people who sell art rarely have the patience to deal with a total Artist, such as DeKooning or Van Gogh (or more recently, Basquiat). It’s their gallery and they like being the temperamental ones. The danger with the Craftsman type is that of capitalizing on one’s popularity to the point of turning out cookie-cutter creations to satisfy the market.
When it comes to my writing, I’m a craftsman. I enjoy it, but I don’t feel driven by it they way I have been driven by painting. It’s a job to me. The very best of jobs, but still a job.
Each of these types has their place and their value. The Dilettante is playful and willing to try new things. They learn from each of their creative flirtations and may be able to apply what they learn when they settle on a direction, giving them a very rich perspective. The Artist is passionately committed and unwilling to settle for mediocrity. The Craftsman is a realist and is able to manage their creative life so it supports him/her, rather than the other way around.
These three aspects of creativity function best when they are combined in one person. If you’re feeling a bit lopsided, try on a different style for a while.