Being an artist starts and ends with the way one approaches life, in my not so humble opinion. The medium is just the medium – most people I’d define as artists tend to do everything in their lives artistically. You see this in people like Bowie or Pete Townsend, who I think both went to Art College, or Ron Wood, or Adam from Tool, who express themselves graphically as well as musically. There are a lot of musicians who also paint, take pictures, write poetry, etc… and plenty of poets, painters, and photographers that play music.
To me, true art stems from the ability to empathize, to truly feel what others are feeling, to then make your own perspective communicable. To create that bond between the totally subjective and personal, and the universal, in a way that comments on the human condition as a whole. Whether speaking on greater mores like love and friendship, or challenging our notions of what it means to be human, or expanding on our ideas of God, politics, or society. It has a purpose, and a perspective. It frames something that encourages us to step outside the mundane, to question our tiny personal universe.
Just as there are people stronger than others, or people smarter than others, I think there are people who feel harder than others, who have gifts in the emotional realm that, when harnessed, allow them to tap into our larger gestalts, to hold that mirror up to ourselves. This is a skill set, like being naturally good at sports, or at physics.
I think this is evolutionarily advantageous, as well as societally necessary. Whether is is B.B. King making us feel like he understands our loneliness, or Picasso painting Guernica to call attention to the horrors of war, there is a reason why we have artists, and why we desire art, from the simplest cave paintings to the most elaborate masterpieces. It has it’s downsides, the emotional extremes making life hard to live, hard to control. When you feel so strongly, the joy can be transcendent, but the sorrow can be apocalyptic. We get it backwards – it’s not being crazy or self destructive that makes one artistic, it’s that the skill set and abilities that make artists so effective can burn hot enough to drive one crazy, or lead to self destruction.
As one of those “artistic types bad at logic and math”, I find that my self-identity as an artist comes not from my work – hey, “bad artist” is still an artist – but from the way I approach life itself. My interface and my perspective are different (not better, just different) than most people’s, and leads me to learn, create, and share, across disciplines, finding the poetry of the soul in everything from comics to economics, informing my perspective and seeing connections between Egyptian pyramids and the silence of young lovers, between the mighty armies of men and the sight of the first butterfly of spring.
Whether I or any other artist has the talent or develops the skill to produce GOOD art, well, that’s totally subjective. And there are people of a more “normal” mindset that make art, and certainly Outsider Art is a fave of mine. But overall, I feel like these skills – empathy, intellectual curiosity, compassion – are what define the artist more than the medium or the skill.