Art. Life. Dream. Work. Balance
The Artist's Life Manifesto
The words and thoughts you read here are works in progress. Expect to see improvements and additions each time you return. Da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned." Until such an unforeseen time when this manifesto is abandoned, I will enhance and improve it. - Barney Davey (Click to get notified of major updates.)
What Is Art? Who Is an Artist?
Throughout the eons, much has been said and written about what it means to be an artist. Yet, even with all the words and earnest interpretations, there is no definitive answer—at least not one that sticks. That is as it should be. Being an artist is a distinctive expression of the human experience.
Steven Covey told us that human beings have four unique endowments:
Artists tap these endowments to help them bring life to their creative visions.
Art is rhythmical, sensual, mathematical, spiritual, scientific, ethereal, and more. It is surreal, realistic, photographic, abstract, ugly, horny, beautiful, monastic, erotic, didactic, lusty, misleading, and wondrous. Perhaps trillions of words have been used to describe art, with the most excellent of them having timeless, poignant, and moving qualities.
Words are the heart of stories that comprise the elemental essence of knowledge and communication. The best stories inform and inspire us. The best-told stories about art and artists are artful, instructive, and compelling.
Words are art. Words spun into poetry or prose are art. A well-crafted technical manual is a form of art, as are the illustrations that support them.
Art is boundless with no limits other than the breadth and depth of our creative imaginations. - Barney Davey
The Business of Art in the Visual Arts.
Visual art in the business of art runs the gamut from lowly and poorly reproduced images that sell for pennies to glorious masterpieces that trade for millions at auctions.
It’s all part of the art business. Never let anyone exclude you from the art business based on their interpretation. You are in it in the way you choose. Doing business is part of the artist’s life most always. But you and only you decide if and how you will do business. Let understanding how much you want from the business be your guide. It’s not competition. It’s just blending business into your artist’s life in ways that work for you. Go get what you need and enjoy it.
The Experience of Art Is Ageless and Priceless.
Art Is Life!
Art is simple renditions made with crayons on pulp paper displayed on refrigerators with tape and magnets. Art is Michelangelo's magnificent Pieta that routinely draws tears from visitors first seeing it.
The earliest examples of art are cave drawings that also represent the origins of visual and written communications. Art has been a part of the human experience for millions of years, dating back to petroglyphs from the Stone Age. Those primitive figures continue to look back at us and inform us about the human condition, and that art is life.
Music, dance, and literature are universal, transcending yet intricately woven into religion, culture, and all humans. Artists use them for inspiration and as tools for plays, film, performance art, and infinite variations. Authors and writers are artists. They turn knowledge and words into endless books, scripts, journals, tomes, and more.
Music is art and mathematics, as is dance, which takes the ageless art form of human movement and sets it to music. Stagecraft and acting are the art of interpretation and presentation. Singing is a rhythmic, musical, auditory communication, and art form.
Like dance, acting, and instrumentation, singing is a performance whether for the pleasure of one or millions on the world's largest stages and over broadcast and digital networks. The spoken word is an art, as are all aspects of drama and theater, from live presentations to films, videos, and recordings.
Quilts, pots, fine art crafts, and tapestries come from the imaginative artists who create them. YouTubers, podcasters, and bloggers are artists. The value and influence of their creations are inestimable.
Anyone Can Be an Artist. Everyone Is an Artist.
We are all artists. Pablo Picasso was precisely correct when he told us that all children are born artists, and the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.
Some people attempt to define who is an artist and who is not. As if they were somehow magically in charge of such decisions. To be sure, there are degrees of artistic talent. Try as most may, they will never achieve the greatness and spectacular levels of those we call masters and virtuosos.
Regardless of what self-indulgent, self-important, self-proclaimed arbiters of art and who is an artist say, they only offer opinions. Their thoughts matter little to the lives of artists. Who but a handful ever pay attention to them? And yet, to be fair, critics are artists too. They craft words—sometimes of wisdom—and challenge our concepts; they heighten our awareness and push our buttons. But in the end, they can only offer views on artistry and not determine what art is or who is an artist. It is beyond them as it is beyond all.
NO JUDGMENT ZONE
Judging against masters is the measure some use to define what art is and who is an artist. But that is merely a parlor game for elitists. We have no such pretenses here because we don't believe it's possible or necessary. You'll find no judgments on Artists.Life about whether a person is an artist or not. I think as Picasso did that all humans are artists.
It's undeniable that the spread in the level of talent in artists is vast. Only a fortunate few are blessed with enormous skills that earn our attention and burnish their reputations for centuries. It's our nature to share mutual admiration and to want to be like our artistic heroes.
AIR GUITAR, KARAOKE, AND WINE & PAINT PARTIES
Whether in mundane air guitar contests, hokey karaoke bars, or paint and wine parties, we use such venues to step into the fantasy of making art the way only a precious few can.
All of us can live the dream of the artist's life on some level. But it unrealistic to suggest most can live a life of wild success with no boundaries.
The Quality of Work by Unheralded Artists Is Not Diminished.
Truthfully, sometimes sadly while other times joyously, many of the most talented artists live unheralded lives. The art they make will never know mass appreciation and the rewards that come with it. It is worth noting that such circumstances in no way lessen the quality of the work the unknown create.
Some artists may muster the effort to create a singular masterpiece, while others produce a vast oeuvre that goes unnoticed. The lack of renown may happen by design because many artists find publicizing and marketing their work beyond their ambition. It is not in their DNA. For them, the creative process is the thing and is all they need to live the artist's life.
It's easy to imagine most artists would prefer a huge audience of devoted fans and tons of money flowing freely to them because of their art. But whether through hard knocks, trial and error, or finely tuned instincts, most accept that great acclaim and fortune are not part of their artist's life journey. And many are grateful for avoiding such experiences because they know the price is higher than they can or want to pay.
That is a fair question. It is a human quality to rank everything as the proliferation of the "best of" and "top ten" lists never ends. These lists don't stop because they feed into our natural curiosity and to some degree, our desire to have others do the hard work of interpreting and qualifying everything for us.
So, while Rembrandt, Picasso, Mozart, and Eddie Van Halen are rightly proclaimed as masters amongst us—the best of the best—the rest of us toil away at being artists in our own right. And that is good enough for the emotionally well balanced among us.
The Misguided Myth of the Starving Artist
Some people mistakenly believe to be an artist, one must suffer. They think it is ignoble to create anything other than art for art's sake. While the concept can and continues to be debated endlessly, it is never resolved because its basis is opinion. The starving artist's suggestion only holds water if one agrees with those who believe suffering is necessary to make art or that making art with the idea it has commercial value cheapens the art. It's a choice, not a reality.
There is no special place in hell for artists who choose to make a living from their artwork. While it may seem vile to some, making art for money's sake does not lessen the art's value unless that is what a person chooses to believe. And no matter how strongly such a belief is held, it remains nothing more than an opinion.
The most valuable lesson from the starving artist myth is to stay hungry. - Barney Davey
The choice is the thing. As humans with an independent will, we can choose what we want and how we want to live. We can choose what it means to be an artist, what art is, and if we live the life of an artist.
No matter what an artist chooses, they are right. It is their perspective that matters. They can choose to be bothered by and let negative opinions fester in their minds, or better yet, they can choose to ignore them. Choice does not mean there aren't commonalities among those who actively pursue living the artist's life.
Most who actively choose to be creators typically are very much in touch with that part of their humanness and spirit. They embrace art, and they adopt making art as part of their lives on a routine basis.
Someone who only makes art on the weekends because their day job is too demanding for more is not less of an artist. They are not living less of an artist's life. What they are doing is living their lives on their terms. If they have peace of mind, then the opinions of others are just that and nothing more. It is not how much time and when they work on their art that matters. It is that they apply a passionate and unyielding spirit to creating art. Of course, those things are the essence of living the dream—to be an artist.
Most of the fiercest critics of other artists' lifestyle and art come from self-anointed artists who believe they hold the high ground in determining what art is and who is an artist. Although their voices may be loud, passionate, and persuasive, they are still peddling perspectives.
If one is a surgeon, stockbroker, or drives a delivery van and works at their art as they can, they are no less an artist than one who slaves 80 hours a week at making art. The talents of artists who work part-time may exceed others who are lionized by the "in crowd" and critics, but their work goes unnoticed. This situation is only a shame if they work equally hard at marketing their art as making it without achieving marketing success. And it sometimes happens that talented, ambitious artists fail to see their careers take off for reasons beyond their control.
Life Can Be Unfair.
To prove that life is not fair, it unexplainably sometimes happens that artists with lesser talent but greater ambition or luck enjoy success against all odds. In those cases, where an artist strives and fails, it's a more bitter pill than the taunts of critics to swallow. It is in such unwelcome circumstances that having the right point of view is helpful.
To make art because you can and to be okay with what happens regardless of the outcome is an excellent, healthy place to be. That is not to say one should give up easily or be complacent. Instead, work at having an honest, pragmatic assessment of your chances and realizing that the deep enjoyment from creating art is the true gift that can never be taken away or minimized by anyone. Such an outlook makes an artist.
BEING BELOW AVERAGE IS NOT HALF BAD
Comedian Steven Wright wryly observes that half the people he knows are below average. Despite our penchant for lists and ranks, there is something that feels shockingly cruel in his apt witticism. The reality is what he offers applies across art and life in general. We aren't all equal in our talent, ambition, luck, or circumstances, each of which affects our outcome.
Some might argue with the thought that good is good enough. They might tell you that nothing less than the best is acceptable. That's understandable because some are wired to feel and act that way. It is their choice and their journey. You don't have to choose that route.
I'm not the best writer or best artist coach who roams the planet. I'm good at what I do and have sales and testimonials to back up my assumptions, but I'm also quite comfortable accepting where I am.
I know I could have done better in some cases but didn't want to pay the price to get there. In other cases, it might be because I fall short of the talent, drive, and ambition to compete at the highest levels. The greatest gift one can give oneself is acceptance. Self-realization serves the artist's life well.
The Unconventional Artist
I have a sister who is musically gifted with a beautiful voice. She won talent contests from the time she was in grade school all through her college years. Some prizes included recording contracts. She had the talent, charisma, and looks to have a professional career as a vocalist and musician. She chose instead to get a degree in medical technology, get married, and raise a family. Later in life, she learned to play the harp alongside the piano, guitar, and ukulele. She wrote songs and produced and recorded a CD of what she calls Hawaiian Celtic music. She has shared it with countless people by distributing it freely—a gift to the world.
For a minute, she thought about building a blog and website to market her music. She never had plans for touring, although she did perform annually at the Hawaii Songwriter's Music Festival. She is the perfect example of someone gifted beyond the norm—above average, for sure—who used her talents to suit her lifestyle and desires. Instead of knocking herself out to drive her musical career, she reverted to the same decision she'd made decades earlier about not pursuing a career as a professional musician. It was the right choice for her in both situations. She is a multi-talented Unconventional Artist.
Or Run Your Talent to the Top
Did I mention I come from a musical family? Another sister has a generational coloratura soprano voice. At seven years of age, she heard Maria Callas singing on grandma’s Victrola. She instantly knew two things. She could sing like Maria Callas and that she wanted to be an opera singer. Her life's work was in pursuit of turning her artist’s dream into reality. She ultimately sang on the best opera stages in the U.S. and Europe. She can attest to the blessings and curses from having an epiphany at such an early age.
Due to limited opportunities and tremendous competition, singing opera may be as much or more about art for art’s sake as any of the arts. Slim prospects don’t matter to opera singers. That’s because an unstoppable force propels them beyond reason to pursue perfection, nirvana, and the indescribable moments of pure artistic joy that exist only in the moment, as with live performances.
Similar internal forces may drive decisions you make about how you live your life as an artist. Your accomplishments and talents are truly determined by the value and creation of the work. Acclaim and money are validating rewards, but they cannot measure the quality of your art or the quality of your life as an artist. As welcome and helpful as they are, those rewards can come with unexpected baggage.
There Are No Wrong Choices
Siblings making widely different choices about how they embrace their lives as an artist proves the point. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for determining how to live one's best artist's life. As always, it's a personal decision with no wrong choice.