Meg wrote an interesting post in her blog, about what questions artists ask themselves about their practice. I rather flippantly responded with one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes,
If you never did, you should:
These things are fun, and fun is good.
Flippant, yes, but serious as well: to me, being an artist is not something you are, it’s something you do. And the most fundamental question an artist can ask him or herself is, “Does this bring me joy?” Because if it doesn’t, why are you doing it? And if creating something does not bring you joy, how can it bring joy to others?
This doesn’t mean all created things have to be happy – some of my favorite poems are sad, or angry, but they all touch that divine beauty that I’ve never been able to describe in words. I call that following my Muse – reaching out for the divine beauty that touches each of us. If I’ve touched that, then my art has been successful, whether or not anyone else ever sees it (much less likes it). If my art inspires that joy, that wonder, in someone else, then it has achieved everything I’ve asked of it.
To me, artistry is much more about process than about finished pieces. In some ways I don’t like my finished pieces – they’re done, dead, the dialogue I have had with them is finished. I can appreciate them as beautiful things (and some of them are), but they’re simply objects, not the dance with my Muse that is the real reason I make art.
Put another way, a card that a friend gave me just after I graduated college:
The most visible artists I know of are those whose medium is life itself, the ones who express the inexpressible – without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt – their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.
In general, I feel that we put too much emphasis on nouns and not enough on verbs. I wrote this essay on heroism (which I will one day actually publish on my writings page), suggesting that hero should be a verb, not a noun. Focusing on the noun makes people ask themselves all sorts of wrong questions like “Am I a hero?” “Am I an artist?” rather than on the real thing: what are you doing? Are you hero-ing? Then you are a hero, while you’re doing it. Are you creating something? Then you’re an artist, while you’re doing it. Removing the need to be something makes it rather more obvious that art is a dance with your Muse, rather than a job title that someone (you, or others) gives you in reward for meeting certain, dubious criteria.