I’ve had a few conversations lately about artists and elitism. Mostly because in a few weeks I’m going to be hosting a small group (a mid-week Bible study from my church) that’s specifically targeted for artists. There was some debate about how to phrase the description so we’d attract the right kind of people. This is a problem. On the one hand, we don’t want the group to feel exclusive to our fellow church-goers. On the other hand, a small group about being an artist is going to kind of suck if it’s populated by non-artists. Furthermore, if the description doesn’t make it clear that it’s focused on artists, the actual artists at the church won’t be interested in it. What serious painter wants to sit around and discuss some really pretty knitting?
Um, well…me. I’m not a serious painter, but I am a serious writer, and I would be very interested in hearing about the knitting. Here’s what I’ve learned from my creativity events. Almost everyone does something creative, it’s like we can’t help it. My friend Rena makes knitted objects inspired by geometric shapes. She puts them into coasters and coffee cup sleeves and they are amazing. I arranged a bunch of them on a pedestal at my birthday art festival. My friend Angel, who has never described herself as an artist in my presence, has a secret darkroom in her house where she hand-develops black-and-white photographs she takes of nature scenes, and they are fantastic. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, but I have so very rarely run into people who call themselves artists who don’t make things. But almost everyone I know makes things, even if they don’t call themselves artists.
I do tend to judge people in my own field a little more harshly than someone who does great knitting, and maybe that’s the rub.
I have fellow writers categorized in my mind. There are people who write things, all the time, and those are people I identify with. I’m a writer because I write things, all the time. Publication and success aside, I will call you a colleague if you write things. Then there are people who write one thing. The people who’ve been working on their novel for the last twelve years, and are either constantly on the cusp of finishing or see no end in sight. The effect is roughly the same. They are people who say “everyone has a book inside them.” Maybe everyone does have one book inside them. I have several books in me, and that makes me different. Finally, there are people who don’t write anything. Seriously. People who answer the question, “what do you write?” with “not much” or “nothing yet.” These are the people who irk me. You have no business calling yourself a writer if you don’t actually write things.
In that last paragraph, you won’t find any mention of quality. Certainly, I have been trained in the fine art of literary analysis, and I even have a shiny piece of paper to prove it. If pressed, I might be able to give a cursory opinion of the relative quality of one piece of writing compared to another. I have thoughts on these kind of things. However, you can write one really gorgeous and elegant novel, and I will have less in common with you than someone who’s hammering away at their keyboard day after day, trying to make their mediocre prose more meaningful.