on being an artist >
when I take a look at the etymology of the word “artist” I get something like this:
1580s, “one who cultivates one of the fine arts,” from Middle French artiste (14c.), from Italian artista, from Medieval Latin artista, from Latin ars (see art (n.)).
Originally used especially of the arts presided over by the Muses (history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dancing, astronomy), but also used 17c. for “one skilled in any art or craft” (including professors, surgeons, craftsmen, cooks). Now especially of “one who practices the arts of design or visual arts” (a sense first attested 1747).
Part of what got me thinking about this was a quote by John Lennon “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.” The context for this quote was he was kind of knocking his own guitar playing (compared to someone like B.B. King), and kind of saying his strength is in getting his instrument to speak, or songwriting. I found it intriguing, as John obviously was not too keen on his guitar playing “chops” but he said in no uncertain terms : “I’m really very embarrassed about my guitar playing, in one way, because it’s very poor, I can never move, but I can make a guitar speak. I think there’s a guy called Richie Valens, no, Richie Havens, does he play very strange guitar? He’s a black guy that was on a concert and sang “Strawberry Fields” or something. He plays like one chord all the time. He plays a pretty funky guitar. But he doesn’t seem to be able to play in the real terms at all. I’m like that.”
Part of the reason I was struck by his comments was I feel a bit like that when I get an instrument or sound I almost immediately automatically have bones for a song. I have had this happen over and over on many different instruments. My skill on the instrument is often very basic, but the songwriting “something” is naturally the next step. Are they all great? Of course not – some are better than others, and most are probably not so good… but that isn’t even my main point of today’s post. I know a lot of people get their identity from being ahh-tEEsts. There is often a kind of smugness – since it is pretty interesting and mysterious… and one can almost feel like a wizard when a crowd is whipped into an emotional frenzy and all sound and light is “on”. However – I would like to take the definition of artist to a different level that I believe is more real and universal – and even more true.
Not long a go I was at a wedding and I was talking to a guest there that was a music buff. He had a lot of experience seeing bands, he had a lot of opinions, and he was a big “fan”. He was very interested in some of my experiences as a musician. At a certain point we were talking about art, creativity and being an artist. He felt somehow that he was less interesting because he couldn’t play an instrument or create anything. I told him he was a very interesting guy – and he’d be surprised how many people that play instruments are actually not such great human beings. I suggested (and here is the point of this post) he was quite skilled at creating an atmosphere. He liked the idea a lot. We talked about how ultimately everyone is responsible for the atmosphere they create on a daily basis – (and that would be a God given assignment to every human on the planet earth in so far as they are capable). And, certainly, there is an art to creating an atmosphere of good will, vitality and truth that goes on every day in most everyone’s life. That would mean in the most basic sense we are all artists in this great and grave creation. Trust me, it’s easy to get on a stage with loud music and dazzle people. It’s a lot harder, and a lot more telling, day in and day out with few people noticing and few props, to be creating an atmosphere of life in this fallen world!
Finally of course the obvious point is to create the best possible atmosphere in any given circumstance we would want to have the fruit of the spirit : love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. O Chambers said something to the effect “The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship.” Am I seeking to lift, help, ease, serve, bless and intercede? Or am I harsh, critical, bossy, backbiting and cursing? I certainly can poison an atmosphere as quickly as anybody – and I do not profess perfection in this art any more than songwriting or music. It is a life long struggle! Anyway, that was my thought about being an artist, hopefully it will challenge and encourage you as you create your own atmospheres with wide eyed wonder today!