Posted in Of Psyche, Of Writingly

Of Being Artistic

Ludwig van Beethoven : Almost a prototype for being artistic Source:
Ludwig van Beethoven : Almost a prototype for being artistic

Love art in yourself and not yourself in art. – Constantin Stanislavski

When you are being artistic, what are you doing? Or, even when you are experiencing something you acknowledge as art, what is it that makes it artistic? Why does the perception of something or someone artistic vary from person to person? Why is it, say, what Madonna did three decades ago is considered to be art now and not then? Is calling something or someone artistic the ultimate validation? The ultimate badge of honour? You may have heard people say that so and so makes curry-making an art. Or sex an art. That Steve Jobs maybe a scientist or a businessman or a visionary, but, most of all, he was an artist. So, my question to you again, when you are being artistic, what are you really doing?

It isn’t merely a question of beauty. Our perceptions regarding beauty are too subjective and vague, even when we consider the most obvious subjects for beauty evaluation, women. If I am being artistic at any point, I am not thinking of myself as beautiful. If I am gardening, I may have grown fresh, pretty flowers, but they should also have something more in order to be called artistic. It isn’t a question of design, though it has been popular to think so. It is generally agreed that beauty is simply a question of symmetry, presence and absence thereof. It maybe subjective, but you can still draw some commonalities. But, when I sit down to make a beautiful or artistic object, my motivation is not simply governed by whether I want it straight or crooked.

Then, there is the whole soul business. When I am being artistic, I am supposed to be imparting some personality into what I am doing for it to be called art. Take the example of contemporary pop music. There is symmetry, where a simple electronic dance track that obeys all the rules is enough to be considered a purely beautiful, consumable object. But, then someone like Adele or Norah Jones pops in with something that is considered more personal, human and intimate. Will either be called artistic? Or is it safer to say that both are art? But, you have to clarify by saying it is pop art, and so, not as artistically up to the mark as, say, opera. Adele could probably sing those operatic notes, but she chooses to do something less grandiose. But, then, aren’t both high and low art propelled by the same energy of being artistic? Or is the former more art than the latter?

Can you really be an artist when you are making art? Is there a specific form of consciousness for the artist when in art-making mode? A consciousness that is different from when they are doing other things they don’t have artistic talents in, such as making tea? I find Stanislavski’s instruction very telling. For those of you who may not know, Stanislavski constructed the ‘System’ for acting from which Lee Strasberg derived the Method, which is what actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are claimed to be doing when they work, though it differs from actor to actor. But, the above quote is something Stanislavski repeatedly stressed on in his classes. This affectation of “being artistic” or “feeling artistic” was so pronounced in some students who were trying to “act”, it hampered, if not completely destroyed their performances.

This state of mind can be so lethal for an actor and yet, at least to me if not to many others, acting is an art. I don’t know what makes it an art, other than its ability to charm and move me, often at the same time, when I see it. For the actor, I suppose, is the ability to create what wasn’t there before, that speaks something about humanity. And, whether you work up to that consciously or not, you can find that drive, that motivation, in anything you do that you call art. Even if it’s about flowers or aliens or robots lost in space trying to find their true love ( I’m thinking Wall-E of course ), there is still the definition and re-definition of something human. And when we see it, when we recognize it, possibly relate to it, we sense that beauty we look for in art. Even when we call it ‘above human’, something spiritual, divine, we feel profound happiness at our luck in being able to see it or hear it or feel it. It is so intense, it makes you want to stay alive. To keep going. To keep chasing it or try to make it last. We call it something indefinable that goes by the name of love, but, essentially, it is a puzzle we can’t work out. I’m not sure I’d want to work it out either.

What does being artistic mean to you?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

17 thoughts on “Of Being Artistic

  1. Maybe is for others to decide if what I do is art? Someone asked me the other day, what is poetry? I said, if it appears in an anthology it is poetry because some poetry editor has decreed it so. I think much of what we call art is defined as that by gate-keepers. I know what I am being creative, it is an enjoyable, challenging, visceral, cognitive and, yes, at times, soul-full place to be. I will focus on the process and allow others to define the product.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Kate! And don’t worry, I understood your comment thoroughly. That is a great, and very healthy way of looking at it. I am an unlikely, budding academic so the gate-keeper image makes me laugh. I believe it is the job of literary, or in the wider sense, ‘culture’ academics, to situate, appreciate and protect art. So much would have been lost or misunderstood had not some lonely soul with enormous patience searched and plodded through what man has made throughout time. On the other hand, I’ve known people to even question the importance of established geniuses, and I’m talking Keats and Shakespeare. All the artist can concern himself or herself with is to act upon the impulse to create. Whether they get recognised when they are alive or dead or at all, is really not in their hands. The only important thing is to keep doing it.

  2. To me being artistic is all about self-expression. I see art as one of the most raw forms of expression, where you erode the walls you might put up to normal society and let more of yourself show than you otherwise might. I wrote something similar when I was wondering aloud what drives me to write, and I think you’ve expressed it nicely here.

    1. Thank you very much for your lovely comment! I frequently find myself thinking that as well. What interests me more is, where is the line between expressing yourself and writing confessionally? I do believe there is a strong impulse on wanting to make right whatever seems to be wrong with the self through creating art, but, for some of us, it seems rather futile. What I find more doable is to leave some sort of an imprint of personality in what I do, so that it is still self-expression, unique and individual, and yet, perhaps, more accessible.

  3. To me art is an expression that flows with very little thought. It’s the the skill of the subconscious in you. It cannot be rationalized or measured only admired. As a part time artist, I find the more I think about what I’m doing the more I regret the results. To use golf as an analogy, when practicing, its OK to think, and go through the motion, but once that is over and you’re playing the course, the best thing you can do is clear your mind to have a smooth successful swing.

    1. Wow, that’s a wonderful analogy! And a great way of looking at it too. Even in writing, self-conscious thought can be very defeating. Much better to let it all out instead.

  4. Art is often perceived as something mystical and unattainable. However those of us who believe ourselves to be artistic are only too aware of our limitations. We can be dismissive of what others see as our talent; usually because it’s not good enough to us. At work I have a corner to call my own. I have been brazen enough to put up a couple of my Haiku, and my proclamations of how to get through the bad days. The piece de resistance is probably the jewellery tree I found in a shop which was closing down, while I was out on the soup run. I have decorated it with wee birds – the ones from my New Year message, plus their friends. Most of the the wee birds are wearing hats, but come Spring, their hats will come off, and I will make leaves for the tree. The thing is, I see this as an ordinary way to brighten up my workspace. Others see it as special, and are amazed at my plans. Because you’re right, art is when you are touched either deeply, or simply charmed. Sometimes it is an unconscious act to create art. But there are also times to turn inwards to the raw flesh of your soul.

    1. I was once reading an interview of a well-respected Indian photographer called Raghu Rai. It was littered with photography terminology, predominantly brought up by the interviewer, but Rai’s answers were so simple and yet useful. Most of all, he said something along the lines of what some artists often say, “the more I learn, the less I know.” I think every artist, whether they “make it” or not, go through that humbling process of identifying with the label of an artist, and then actually creating art. In a way, it’s good to label yourself, only to make people realise you’re serious. I mean, an engineer doesn’t have to be personally involved in making an entire bridge to justify his occupation.
      I think it’s lovely that you have personalised your office space with your own artwork. At my uni, a teacher of mine has a Beatle poster in his office which instantly makes me smile whenever I see it. These spaces that we inhabit can be so dull, all work and concrete, unless we find a way to bring some personality to it. I have lived in very cramped spaces since I turned 18, but I was fond of personalizing too. More importantly, I think Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” applies here because, whatever you do, you need to have an environment you feel comfortable in to do them. I’ve found it very difficult to live over the years just with a laptop, books and clothes, but I hope that situation does change some time in future.

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