Portrait of the Artist in Pieces: Part I

I’ve been thinking, naturally, of what makes someone an artist. I say “naturally” because I am one myself, or aspire to be, in various ways. I did not always aspire to be an artist; it’s something that gradually came upon me through a series of desires, not all of which had anything to do with art. In fact, I think the original desire that started me on the path to discovering the artist in me was quite simply the rather mundane and very prosaic desire to get laid. I still think of this desire as a mundane one, though some treat sex and the need for it as one of the fundamental expressions of human nature and of beauty. I however do not hold sex is any such regard. I do sometimes, when I am looking at pornographic material, think to myself that this is a beautiful thing but I don’t perceive my own having of sex as something with pleasing aesthetic qualities. Not because I haven’t slept with beautiful women — I certainly have and I say this with such emphasis not to aggrandize myself but to give those beautiful women their proper due — but because when I am a participant in the act, the act ceases to seem to me to possess elements of anything other than the fulfillment of gross physical desires.

And yet out of these desires came to be the series of events that led me to be an artist. There is a circular problem here — if I know myself to be an artist, then why am I wondering what makes one, and if I am still at the stage where I have to think about what constitutes an artist, then how can I know that I am one? I disentangle this thread by noting that others call me an artist, and that I have produced or participated in various works that could properly be assigned to the field of art, if for no other reason than because they never made anybody any money.

But penury as a foundational element in the portrait of an artist is not what I am going to write about here. That perhaps will happen another day. In this post, the aspect of an artist’s character that interests me is the desire or need or affliction an artist has whereby he cannot avoid seeing and experiencing life from as many perspectives as is humanly possible. The artist cannot stop himself from regarding the many implications and symbolisms inherent in nearly everything that is the world around him, or at least in those things of this world that the artist is particularly interested in.

Someone who is not an artist is satisfied with a singular interpretation of an object that he sees, like a chair. A chair is simply an object that provides the possibility of repose. For an artist, there is much, much more to think about: the making of the chair, the historical importance of the chair, the chair’s provenance, the statement it makes in tribute to humanity’s power to design tools and mould the natural world — all of these thoughts are awakened in the artist’s mind when he sees what to others is a mere chair, an insipid chair.

Some artists apply political dimensions to the objects they see or the events they experience or the stories they hear. When an object in the world, especially one made by human beings or a natural object manipulated by human agency, is seen by an artist, it embodies not only its inherent form but speaks to the artist of the desires and motives of the people who wrought it. A chair can then be not just a chair, but something built perhaps to give its occupier a position of power and grandeur, or to bestow on its owner the privilege of rest and relaxation. The chair as an extension of human desires is a thing that only the artist sees; indeed, the artist cannot ignore this aspect of the chair.

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