What is art?
I thought I knew what art was. It was the paintings, the sculptures, the drawings and the beautiful sometimes weird and abstract pieces they keep in museums and art galleries.
It was also something which students with no real potential studied in college and university. The bright kids study science and maths and law. Isn’t it? I mean who with 90% plus marks studied arts.
Then something weird happened. About two years ago (2017 to be exact), I came across the work of three men, which changed my whole perception of art. It was not that they appeared out of the blue like shooting stars and enlightened me. I was aware of them, at least one of them and was subscribing to his emails in 2012, but he made no sense to me so I stopped.
The man I am talking about is Seth Godin. And if you are anything like me in 2012, I am sure you wouldn’t have heard of him. You see in 2017, I learned there is a parallel universe and it is called Cyberworld. And in Cyberworld Seth Godin is God. Seth has written several books, has been a pioneer in online marketing and has been writing a blog for more than a decade without missing a day.
For years what he said didn’t make any sense to me because I was a nine-to-five employee with very little time for myself and with blinders on I went to work, came home cooked, cleaned and went to sleep unaware what was happening in the parallel universe. Then one day I realized I was not getting anywhere at work. That there is a creative side of me that needs expression but I had no clue how. That was when Seth Godin eventually started making sense to me.
Seth described a phenomenon that was happening on the planet earth. “The industrial age, the one that established our schooling, our workday, our economy, and our expectations, is dying. It’s dying faster than most of us expected, and it’s causing plenty of pain, indecision, and fear as it goes.”
He argued that the guaranteed jobs won’t be there for much longer and people need to be creative to survive in the information age which he calls the connection age. But more than that, life’s too short to spend it doing something that isn’t rewarding. So aim to thrive and not just survive. He went on saying:
“Creating art is a habit, one that we practice daily or hourly until we get good at it … Art isn’t about the rush of victory that comes from being picked. Nor does it involve compliance. Art in the post-industrial age is a lifelong habit, a stepwise process that incrementally allows us to create more art.”
He then explained what makes someone an artist:
I don’t think is has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.
That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artist, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.
Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artist, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artist because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.Seth Godin
Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
Seth is an artist too. He has created movement, singlehandedly, to help people understand the need of the time and how to equip themselves to respond to it which benefits them and the economy and mankind.
I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.
Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.
Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out are – human, generosity, risky, change and connection.
You can be perfect or you can make art.
You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.
You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.
The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you.
He then urges you not to wait but be. If you want to be a writer, start a blog and write; if you want to be an entrepreneur, start a business from your garage. Don’t wait to be picked up.
“Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission, authority and safety that come from a publisher … who says, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you … then you can actually get to work … No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.“
He then tackles the question of why art?
“Because you can. Art is what it is to be human.” We human have been making art since the cave days.”
“Because you must,” he says. “The new connected economy demands it and will reward you for nothing else.”
Because art is scarce. Scarcity and abundance have been flipped. High-quality work is no longer scarce. Competence is no longer scarce, either. We have too many good choices – there’s an abundance of things to buy and people to hire. What is scarce is trust, connection and surprise. These are three elements in the work of the successful artist.
One kind of scarcity involves effort. You can put in only so many hours, sweat only so much. The employer pays for effort, because he can’t get effort he can count on for free. And the eager-beaver employee expands extra effort to make a mark but soon learns that it doesn’t scale.
Another kind of scarcity involves physical resources. Resources keep getting more scarce, because we’re running out of them.
The new, the third kind of scarcity is the emotional labour of art. The risk involved in digging deep to connect and surprise, the patience required to build trust, the guts necessary to say, “I made this” – these are all scarce and valuable. And they scale.
He describes what it means to make art.
“The joy of art is particularly sweet … because it carries with it the threat of rejection, of failure, and of missed connections. It’s precisely the high-wire act of “this might not work” that makes original art worth doing.”
In tomorrow’s post, I will introduce you to the second person who changed my perception of art.