For a while now I’ve been trying to understand the definitions or categories of what is “art”. Or as a corollary what it means to be an “artist”. For some art forms, this description is very clear. Or I should say if one finds success, then it is very clear. A person who paints and can sell his or her works at a price on which he or she can make a living is easily defined as an artist. A musician who finds employment in a band or orchestra, likewise. But what if an artist cannot make a living with their art and so takes on other responsibilities, does that mean they are not an artist?
Or take the instance that is a bit closer to home for me. I recently had a discussion with a friend in the same situation. I trained for many years to be a dancer. As performers, dancers certainly fall in the category of performing “artists”. But then, I stopped. Or my friend, got injured. From one day to the next we weren’t dancing anymore. But does this mean that overnight, we were no longer “artists”? So then that would mean that to be an artist is not to “be” something but to “do” something. Both of us feel that we are still artists. Artists without an art form, but still artists.
My former classmate Sara Webb in Stanton Welch's "TuTu" (Houston Ballet)
Then there is the whole question of the limits of sanity. Or perhaps I should say, the praise for what has gone beyond sanity. I recently saw the film “Black Swan” and read many critiques on it both before and after. No writer fails to discuss the fact that artists are expected to push beyond what is humanly possible in the name of “art”. And that somehow that is perfection or “absolute art”. In the scene at the end of the movie when “Nina” has reached that supernatural point, her only words are “I was perfect.”
Yet, what exactly did her performance achieve?
Did the audience experience the same supernatural euphoria that she was feeling as she was spinning her way into a physical transformation?
What was the purpose of her “art”?
Why do we have such a fascination with the abnormal?
And if it’s not beyond the limits, then is it not art? Is a dancer who is not mad, less of an artist than one who is?
Is no one really crazy, just very creative? Or the reverse, are some of the things we categorize as art just something totally insane?
This was a question I pondered more than one while walking the halls of the many art shows during Art Basel week here in Miami.