Monday, November 17, 2014

An Artist by Any Other Name

The other day, a friend told me she was looking for a new job. She said, "I'm an artist. I should be treated with respect and professionalism." Setting aside the obvious questions about why artists in particular should be treated more respectfully than the average person, her statement got me thinking. What exactly is an artist? My friend is a costume designer, which means she envisions the costumes for a production, draws sketches, makes the costumes – sometimes from scratch, and evaluates the effect once they're on the actors. Yes, definitely an artist, even though it's beyond the typical definition of artist that I'd always had in my mind.

That realization demanded a closer look. Visual artists, recording artists, writers, dancers, and actors are commonly considered artists because they use their creativity to express themselves through their media. But the list shouldn't stop there. If a painter or sculptor is an artist, then isn't an architect who designs entire buildings? Or an interior designer who plans a room to look and feel a certain way? If a singer is an artist, then so is the drummer and the band leader since they contribute to the overall sound of music in their own unique way. And if a writer is an artist, then how about the person who designs and lays out the book? He or she has a vision for how the book should look and wants to make it visually appealing to the reader. If actors are artists, then aren't directors and sound engineers and the guy who runs the light board for a play? They all have a vision and are working toward the same goal.

That train of thought then leapt the track and arrived at people who are not involved in traditionally "artistic" businesses at all. How about teachers? Are they artists? They all have their own individual visions for how their classes should be taught in order to best help their students learn. Each one adds his or her own flair to the process. Isn't that what being an artist is all about? Self-expression and creativity and individualism. How about a doctor or nurse? Each one does the job a little differently and adds something new to how each patient is treated. Most people would agree that on top of the science, there's also a great deal of art that goes into doing those jobs. That's true whether it's a doctor deciding on the best cancer treatment for a particular patient's circumstances or a nurse determining how to comfort a frightened child.
That got me thinking about pursuits that aren't necessarily jobs, but which are often performed with artistic zeal. Creativity can be expressed through gardening or cooking Thanksgiving dinner or designing an exercise routine that's not boring. Putting together playlists that evoke a certain mood. Organizing a charity run that brings together 100 people and raises $25,000 for a good cause. Getting six children up, washed, dressed, fed, and on the school bus every morning. All of these examples as well as millions of others are artistic in their own way. How one person plans and executes them can be entirely different from how someone else will. Each person expresses himself or herself differently through how they complete the tasks. One mother might organize her children with Von Trapp Family-like precision, while another might figure that the only way children will learn responsibility is by oversleeping, missing the bus, and having to walk four miles to school.

This idea that everyone is an artist is satisfying to me. If a particular fast food chain wants to call its employees "sandwich artists," that's just fine because they are artists. No two sandwiches will be identical. Some employees will work with more flair and self-expression than others, but they still do things their own way to some degree. And that difference, that uniqueness, is where the art comes in. So take a bow, fellow artists! We all deserve to be treated with respect and professionalism for what we do and how we express ourselves while we're doing it. And we all deserve our own televised awards shows hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, too! Okay, maybe one step at a time.

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