For a long time, I considered fiction my art. My essays, articles, interviews, book reviews and blog posts were something else. Writing, but not art.
Then I read a post by Tara Mohr. It was a great post that, unfortunately, I can’t find now, but it talked about how she left the corporate world to pursue “her art,” and it was clear that she was talking about everything she does now, all the writing, speaking and teaching women to play big and believe in themselves.
I remember being struck by the phrase. Tara’s book is called 10 Rules for Brilliant Women and while I think any book that attempts to teach women how to own (and wield) their brilliance is important and worthy… is it art?
Not long after reading Tara’s piece, I read this from Stephen Elliott in the Daily Rumpus. “We were talking yesterday about how there are artists in every medium,” he said. “You can be an artist and a cook, an artist and a small business owner.” He mused that the definition may lie in what you’re trying to do and why, whether you’re out for a paycheck or genuinely trying to create something good, something meaningful.
And then I read this from Seth Godin:
Art is a uniquely human endeavor, and act of genius. Art is what we do when we do something for the first time, do it uniquely, and do it to touch someone else. The generosity is built into the act. Painting might be art, pottery might be art, customer service might be art–but none of them are art if all you’re doing is commerce, or phoning it in, or following a manual or a map.
Art is where we expose ourselves, because in addition to being human, we really have no choice but to accept failure. And it’s failure (or the potential for failure) that creates art. When we talk about emulating the bodhisattva, we accept the risk that maybe we won’t touch anyone, won’t shed any light, won’t make a difference.
The only way to do art, real art, is to embrace that risk. To do less is to hide.
That is beautiful and rings true to me. In her most recent column, Sugar at the Rumpus said, “I’ve written [the Dear Sugar column] as a body of work in a way more akin to a novel or memoir than a years-long Q & A. There’s a beginning, middle and end.” I agree completely , and there is no doubt in my mind that what Sugar has created is art.
As my notion of what constitutes art changes and expands, I find myself contemplating other questions. Is everyone who blogs “a writer,” everyone who paints “an artist,” everyone who takes pictures “a photographer”? Do the titles mean anything objective? Should they?
I’m drawn to the idea of art being about more than the finished product. I like definitions that include intent and meaning. Is my reluctance to call everyone who writes poetry “a poet” reflexive, or do we owe it to the poets who have studied and read and honed their craft not to place just anyone in their ranks?
What do you think? What constitutes art to you?