On Defining an Artist – Part I

The artist is essentially a journalist, someone who documents. The only difference, if any, is that one holds the liberty to induce and dictate emotional aspirations, while the latter has to circumvent only the objective, factual reality. Both of them first observe, then document and iterate it for as long as they allow themselves.

Documentation of emotions, opinions, feelings, dreams, imaginations, expectations, far distant ideas of a utopia, the subtle orderly dystopian nature of the modern world, existence, identity, loss, anger, frustrations, elaborations, meaningless endurance of the abstract, an artist is inherently free to see and more free to create.

The fundamental essence for all the nuances of observations to materialise is expression. Perhaps, this is the startling denominating factor between artists and the other lot.


Is it an elaborate routine, an ejaculation of suppressed emotions, or is it just an act of being?

The textbook definition – the action of making known one’s thoughts or feelings, is clear, concise and aptly described, and still, we mistake it for something grand and out of the radar of normal human existence. It is silly that such a misunderstood explanation runs the core of our conventional social biases; we detach expression and limit it to artistic pursuits only.

While writing a poem, as Wordsworth quotes ‘emotions recollected in tranquillity’, it marks the true, organic essence of expression; or the energy of a musician while performing a piece. Far greater than the technical wizardry is the inherent soul of the music and the performer that moves the listener. Impressions are a game of novelty and as with all novelties, they fade quicker than they emerge.

However, I had a rather beautiful experience one time that set me up to explore what it means to express and how expression far surpasses mere artistic survivorship.

My partner cooked a delicious meal for me and with a beautiful, warm smile served it on a decorated platter; it was glorious. Post-meal, I couldn’t resist and showered her with affection and love. To my utter surprise, it was a very similar feeling I get while writing, or performing a song. It felt like my eureka moment.

Over the next few weeks of researching, thinking and trying to decipher, the essence of expression expanded into the ordinary, mundane life. I couldn’t help but ponder about the reality of art, and the pursuit as an artist. If being human means to express, then why is there such a significant divide between the artist and a human?

Perhaps, it is the categorial conglomerate of the capitalistic cult. We want to monetise every micro-skill – a default advice to anyone in business. Now, I am in no way against this, it is natural and food on the table is any day better than a million unsold paintings.

This divide doesn’t make sense though. To be an artist is to be human, to embrace the essence of humanity, with all our flaws and insecurities and failures and commandments, and whatnot. If writing a song and showing affection to my loved one bring out the same energy, then maybe I have been looking at art and the artist’s life the wrong way (not so wrong, but not completely right).

If only we could realise this and restrict the romantic adulation of talent, the world be a much better place, and more peaceful, with emotionally intelligent people, and one where logic and analysis would be second only to human bondage.

The Causality of Freedom

The second and technically more important part of the equation of who an artist is is the causality of freedom.

Niching up and focussing on a particular set of skills, or genre-fying yourself is a good marketing move, and could help you build up originality and authority over time, but it is vague diminishing the inner voice.

For example, after having spent two decades as a painter, one day you feel a sudden strong urge to make a film, what would you choose to do? I am not talking about the random surge of passion about the trivialities that comes and goes often, but the invasion of inviolable levels of curiosity, that you find it very difficult to turn a blind eye and keep your head on what you have been doing – something that feels like a call from the gods themselves.

For a long time, I compared this to the sunk-cost fallacy, which says that once you have spent something, the cost is lost, and if you are not interested, rather than sitting through the complete movie that is painful to watch, just because you have bought the ticket is an absolute waste of time. You could leave and use that time doing something more valuable. This applies in certain contexts to the aforementioned dilemma.

If you get a sudden dramatic urge to change medium, would you do it? I could reframe the question by not deliberately asking you to do it but to give it a fair chance.

What does it mean to give something a fair chance, and not just give it a shot?

Well, it is easy, you give something a fair chance only if you stay steady through your principles of honesty, sincerity, consistency, discipline, persistence, perseverance, patience and openness. However, how often do we imbibe these fundamental moral principles that every civilisation, race, religion, cult, or organisation ever preaches?

The Incoming Crisis

It could present a situational crisis. Remember the age-old moral query on who would you rather save – a child or five criminals tied onto the railway line?

We got it all wrong. There is no right answer, this question is supposed to push you through redundancy and into a state of self-inquiry, about what is morality, and how you choose your morals. Is it that you outsource the moral code, or does it need to have a deeper, insightful, very personal attribution?

I think of the question ‘Would I change my medium’ as a confluence of these two – the sunk-cost fallacy and the sudden situational moral crisis?

No Simple Solution

I cannot present a simple solution to this, because as iterated, there is no right answer.

We are in the deep dark corners of the artistic mind where it is not about the medium or product anymore, but it is way more fundamental, innate and primal. It requires enormous effort, an abundance of aspiration and an undying thirst for curiosity, to go down this road.

Not recommended, I am known among my friends as the person who makes you quit your job.

However, we could take a step towards an understanding through analysis, inquiry and presuppositions rather than forcibly coming up to a conclusion.

The essence of who an artist is, and the other half of what makes someone a true artist (a true human being) is freedom.

Freedom is a dynamic and ever-evolving concept. A decade ago we wouldn’t be having conversations about the advent of AI and the breach of privacy other than the brilliant Isaac Asimov or Orwell books. Privacy wasn’t even a concept a millennia ago, like gender expression and identity. And diving head first into the generationally-apt, time-sensitive, judgement-free, all-inclusive definition of freedom doesn’t solve the problem; instead, it emanates a loop of a redundant nature.

Freedom ensues when you detach from the Ego. It is neither an exercise nor a routine, it is a blatant non-conscious state of being.

I shall leave you with this, as the concept of ego and freedom requires a grand interrogation, and this text would turn into an excruciating ordeal to surrender and do the act. Can you see the irony, and the silent hypocrisy, I am a fun person indeed. This essay is about exercising the right to artistic expression, to let go of the inherent nature of identity, and here I am putting a leash all over my bottlenecked mind.

The brief prescription to understanding an artistic life is the exploration of two major sub-facets – one is the true nature of expression and the other is the situational crisis of what freedom (of expression and being) is. You could indulge in the thought exercise of thinking beyond your chosen media and materials give this exposition a thought, and enlighten me if you ever arrive at something substantial.

I have to raise a disclaimer though, these are dangerous territories and you could come out a different person altogether.

We shall continue with On Definitioning an Artist in Part II which comes out on 01 June 2024.


One response to “On Defining an Artist – Part I”

  1. […] embody this fluidity, unlike anything. In part one of this essay, we dealt with a critical question of whether we would change our medium if we felt a sudden strong […]

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