What makes an artist an artist?

Posted by Ian on Oct 31, 2008 in blog | No Comments
What makes an artist an artist? Is it medium? genre? style? persona? Or is it something wholly different? I was watching a classic clip of Salvador Dalí appearing on the 1950s US television show, ‘What’s my line?‘ (seen above). In the clip, blindfolded participants have to try to find out who the guest is and what they do by only asking yes or no questions. Amusingly, Dali says yes to nearly everything he is asked.

But to be serious, Dalí’s answers to these questions illustrate the difficulty of defining what makes an artist an artist. Although popular media and perception would seek to reduce the artist their authorial, persona or stylistic qualities or the arts to technical specifications and categories, Dalí’s answers show that it is more the relational qualities between the artist and the world which creates work, meaning and identity. Although Dalí is known for being a painter with a fine moustache and a colourful social life, the complex becoming of his life through performance, writing, dancing, sport and many other facets all are important components of what helps him be attuned to the world. Was Dalí’s art his paintings or his life?
Joseph Beuys argued that everyone is an artist. This was not to say that everyone is an ‘artist’ that makes ‘art’ but it is a step away from authorial arts towards relational arts and the creation of meaning. For Beuys, we all participate in the making of meaning in the world through participation.
So perhaps what makes an artist is the ability and desire to be attuned to the relational qualities of the world – dwelling in them – and skillfully manipulating and mediating things to render and steward meaning. As can be seen in the video clip, Dalí certainly seems to enjoy ‘being Dalí’. Maybe that’s what makes him an artist?
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