Art isn’t something that’s made by artists. Artists are people who make art.
— Seth Godin
In the introduction of his new book, The Dude and the Zen Master, Jeff Bridges writes that, “To me, this book is sort of like a snakeskin. A snakeskin is something you might find on the side of the road and make something out of — a belt, say, or a hatband. The snake itself heads off doing more snake stuff…”
He says he sees his movies in the same way. The art happens when the director, the cast, the crew and all the other people listed in the credits get together. The movie is what’s left over. Do something useful with it if you like. The artists have moved on to do more artist stuff.
You could say the same about most things. There’s the thing. And then there’s the thing.
You might hire a photographer to take your family portrait. The picture you get a week later looks great. But is it art? It depends, not on how great the picture looks, but on the photographer. A photographer who is excellent at the craft of photography may well present you with a beautiful picture. A photographer who is an artist will present you a picture that reveals to you a new way of seeing yourself and your family. Maybe you will be happily amazed. But it might make you wonder: “I never saw that expression on my daughter’s face before. I wonder what that’s about?”
There are beautiful oil paintings of sunsets. Many of them are pretty. A lot of them are just knock-offs of other paintings of sunsets.
Windows Vista looked pretty. It looked a hell of a lot better than previous versions. Everyone knows, though, that it was just an imitation of OS X. In spite of how it looked, operationally it sucked. With Windows 8, Microsoft has gone back to doing what it does best: mass producing square, boring, barely adequate software. Call it “tiles,” but it’s still just rectangles on a grid.
There are Harlequin romances, and then there’s Jane Austen.
At the end of the Toy Story 2 movie, there’s a scene with a barbie doll stuffed in a backpack. The doll is covered in various shades of lipstick. Against the cultural template of what beauty is supposed to look like, the typical skinny blonde with big boobs and perfect hair and make-up, this barbie doll is hideous. But she’s happy. Unlike the horrified doll in the backpack next to her whose greatest ambition was to become a collectors item, she knows how to play, how to be alive. She says of the little girl who did this to her: “You’ll love Amy. She’s an artist!”
It’s easy (and boring) to churn out a lot of average stuff. Sometimes you can even makes some money at it.
But the world already has plenty of average stuff. Much better to do art, and like the snake leave the stuff behind.