UPDATE - 1/27/2010 - I changed the title of this post from "Demeaning or Enhancing" to "Diminishing or Enhancing" - I know Seth Godin would never "Demean" artists and realized the word "demean" was too harsh for the idea I wanted to discuss. Seth Godin is one of the most forward-thinkers of our time, and I *am* very much looking forward to his new book, Linchpin, discussed a bit in this post.
Is Seth Godin Enhancing or Diminishing the meaning of the word Artist? The short answer is: I'm not sure.
Seth Godin Releases Linchpin
The blogosphere is all buzzing about the release of Seth Godin's new book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable
? I admit that I have not read the book yet, and that I do plan to as soon as I can get a copy since I've always found Seth's work to be enlightening and insightful. I'm sure that Linchpin
will be no exception.
In fact, in reading what Seth has to say in public interviews about Linchpin, it appears that his new book will deliver up many more insightful ideas. Here's one quote: "Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” and “Art is a gift that changes the recipient.” Hmmmm, change
, where have we heard that before on this blog?
Redefining the word Artist?
Seth usually has the authority and insight to redefine
words in this brave new world, but this time he seems to be attempting to redefine the word artist
Take a look at these quotes from around the blogosphere (emphasis added by me):
"Artist doesn’t mean painter or cartoonist or playwright.
Artist means someone willing to stand up, stand out and make change." [Source
"what do we call a customer service rep
...that changes the game, that elevates each interaction and that takes enormous emotional and professional risk with their work? I think they need a name, so I stole one. I call them artists.
"A great waitress
or conductor or politician can make art
. So can David, who cleans the tables at Dean and Deluca.
Art isn’t the job, it’s the attitude you bring to the job and work you do when you’re there." [Source
“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another” and “Art is a gift that changes the recipient.” [Source
] (Ed Note: This quote applies to art, but it could apply to many other "acts of courage" as well).
"By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble.
Art is what we're doing when we do our best work." [Source
"An artist can be a software developer, a customer service rep, well, it can be anyone.
"Biz Stone was an artist when he figured out how to launch and scale Twitter's marketing." [Source
An Artist or a Craftsman?
Now, while I don't disagree with Seth's point
, which is that striving for world changing greatness in any career is a good thing, but does that make everyone an artist?
When I first launched our services
, I struggled with my own title. I despised
the idea of calling myself the "CEO" or the "President." I mainly love
to write software that changes other people's lives for the better. So I finally settled on the term "Software Craftsman
." Before I did though, I seriously toyed with the title "Software Artist
." In some ways, what I do is
similar to an artist: I spend hours alone in my "studio" creating a physical manifestation that began as a vision in my head. I practice relentlessly, trying to get better, trying to learn new techniques so that, eventually, I can become a "master."
However, in the end, I decided on "Craftsman" for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that I was nowhere near accomplished enough to call myself an "artist" (and I'm still not), and I didn't want to demean or insult the real
artists we have the privilege to serve. I think confidence in one's own "mastery" is something a lot of people struggle with. Hugh MacLeod (who is
a real artist
) said in his interview of Seth, " I’m a professional artist myself, and even I don’t much like using that term.
: question 4].
Art for Art's Sake
The second and bigger reason I went with the term "craftsman" is that, regarding the definition of "Art" (and hence the word "artist"), I subscribe to the philosophy of Ars gratia artis
- or "Art for Art's Sake." It means that, "the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function." [Source
Software, while it can
be inspired and beautiful (not that I'm saying our software has achieved that level yet), does possess a utilitarian
function. Just ask our customers who use our software to build websites, to post to their blogs, to send email newsletters and to sell their artworks.
Paintings, on the other hand, exist solely to express beauty, to move the viewer through, and solely though "aesthetic bandwidth"
(yes, I just coined that term, Seth's not the only one who gets to define words :-)).
Art Changes the World Intrinsically and Even Separately From the Artist
I realize that the words "art" and "artist" have always been hard to define. And just because I believe art should be defined according to "Art for Art's Sake
", that doesn't mean everyone has to define it that way.
From what I've seen in these interviews, Seth talks a lot about changing the world. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I talk about changing the world all the time. I think there is a subtle difference in what we're saying though. Linchpin
seems to be talking about people
changing the world, with their attitudes, with taking risks, with elevating their "craft" to greatness. What I'm (mostly) talking about is the artwork itself
changing the world. The art is intrinsic
. Ars gratia artis
A few examples of the art changing the world, where the artist may not have set out to: Sometimes pieces that the artist thought were uninspired change a viewer's life. One of the biggest SOB's I know makes art that will make you laugh and cry - his art changes the world and will continue to do so long after he's gone. I adore the art, can't stand the artist. Some artists struggle for their entire lives, but their art changes the world after they pass on (Van Gogh). Seth said that, "According to my definition, doing private stuff doesn’t count
", but since the world-changing aesthetic bandwidth
of a work of art exists in the work itself
...well....sometimes the private stuff does
So Just Who is an Artist?
Seth said in the quote above, he needed a word for the game changing, risk taking people who wouldn't normally be called "artists" saying, "I think they need a name, so I stole one. I call them artists
." But I thought he had
a word for such people already, or at least for the great work that they do: Purple Cow
If my insurance broker, my coffee shop waitress, and my mechanic are all now artists, then what do I call you
as someone who creates paintings, sculpture, fiber art, or photography? Do I now have to go around, always referring to you as a "visual artist?"
What Do You Think?
I've always admired Seth and I'm really on the fence on this and would like to know what you guys, the "visual" artists who read this blog think? Is Seth expanding the word artist? Is that OK with you? Or is it demeaning to real artists? Can work that is not "art for art's sake" truly be considered "art?" Am I just being a typical INTJ
and getting hung up over semantics?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
I'll end with my usual and long-standing closing line ...now, go change the world
Software Craftsman, Art Fanatic, Contrarian Marketer
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Click here for Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?