Who better to consult than the artists I know and work with on a daily basis? I promptly sent out emails, texts and left phone messages.
“A dead fly on the windshield of time” was the first answer I received. That’s Enzo Sarto. Enzo can be best described as mysterious and controversial. He is word-smart, yet frustratingly tight-lipped about his own art practice. A few hours later, he adds: “In general, an artist is a compulsive communicator. There can be subdivisions and related psychological factors from discipline to discipline and from artist to artist, but basically they are people compulsively reaching out with a message or a translation.”
Answers flowed in. Artists wanted to know why I was asking. I received my fair share of question marks and acronyms. “Woohoo! THE question,” exclaims Ricardo Cavolo. Ricardo, known within the art community for his sunny disposition, creates artwork that conveys his zest for life. “I think an artist is someone whose creative work connects with people in some way. Artists create something that turns on a light bulb within people. It can be in a good or bad way.”
The idea of an artist creating something good or bad or being faced with constant dichotomy came up repeatedly. Xray, who is of a quiet demeanor, explains: “Artists are walking contradictions; risk-takers who are willing to be seen as fools or praised as visionaries. They can be audacious and supremely confident, or insecure to the point of hopelessness. They can be soulful and generous or shallow, pretentious and greedy. Throughout, artists have an obsession with creating and are crazy enough to keep producing in spite of soul-crushing rejection, being judged and being misunderstood. There is no doubt that these individuals feel an urgency to live in the moment. They also feel very strongly about what it means to be an artist.”
On the other hand, DeeDee remarks: “I am generally uncomfortable with people calling me an artist.” Perhaps this was the sort of contradiction Xray warned me about? Her work comes off as playful yet is often separated by extremes. When a New York art dealer described her color waves as “morning and night” she corrected him: “That's not morning, that's Hell.” DeeDee burns a wonderful fire, yet is soft-spoken: “I just think of myself as making things. An artist is someone who makes something that never existed before, or makes something out of nothing.”
Eric Clément elaborates on this idea: “An artist is constantly dissecting and observing our world: the fold of a jacket or the shape of a nose may be much more than it appears. It is light, shadow, mass and tonality. A letter or word becomes more than a tool to communicate but a shape to be abstracted and studied for its structure and aesthetic. An artist is a person who sees the world through very specific filters.” This response could also act as a description of Eric’s work. His paintings zoom in to the most incongruous details of an object, giving it new meaning and importance. “We are obsessive collectors of inspiration and outlets for creativity. An artist is someone who strives to balance skills and technique with passion, ego with humbleness, communication with self-expression. An artist is someone who has made a commitment to share their work, to make art, to be frustrated by it, to be drained by it, to be motivated by it, but most importantly to live for it.”
I was charmed by the answers I received. They were plentiful and genuine. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post more answers. My hope in doing so, isn’t so much to find a specific answer (after all, as Stikki Peaches replied, “I have my views and opinions on what an artist is. I’m sure it will be totally different from the next artist”) but to give you a glimpse into who they are – their attitude, energy. Coming up, you’ll have the chance to read the answers of Jason Botkin, Gilf!, Omen, Stikki Peaches, Whatisadam, and many more.