On Defining an Artist – Part II

To be an artist is to be human. What does it mean to be human?

An eternal mystery that masses of civilisations have tried to decipher, but have only come close. Humans are supposed to be perfect – the evolutionary masterpiece, the magnum opus. In a very primal sense, we are; dominant, and controlling, the inherent feeling of entitlement puts us at the top.

Yet with all this fancy glimmer and glitter surrounding our species, just 0.01% of all life has destroyed 83% of wildlife. The climate is acting weirder with every passing day, the diseases are spreading like wildfire, and oh the wildfires – the planet is not having a good time, and there is only one species to blame – humans.

How is it that the most superior of beings is rapidly heading towards its dismal and even when the signs and science are all clear, we still choose to ram into the same wall?

Perhaps it is the sudden rise of individuation, one-person-brand schemes and just a supreme elevation of greed.

Humans are social animals, we have survived all through the ice ages and diseases and pandemics only because we can cooperate. No other species has ever reached this ultra-sophisticated level of communion where today’s world feels like a global village.

It is important to celebrate individual opinions and beliefs, as groupthink can prove catastrophic at times, and individual ideas provide variety and diversity in situations. However, there is no relief from greed, the desire for more and the insatiable thirst to own and be everything.

It has driven the modern human crazy.

Art to the rescue.

More than reason, logic and/or commandments, art is one thing that has the potential to change how we think and maybe save the world one day.

Remember the Afghan Girl (Sharbat Gula) by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. The intense glare and the brilliance of the photographer came to symbolise the struggles of refugee women to the rest of the world.

Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl (Kim Phuc) – the devastating photograph of a naked girl running along a road, arms outstretched, screaming in pain and fear, inspired revulsion and horror while conveying the absolute injustice of war.

More photographs for your consideration –

The Falling Man – Richard Drew (September 11, 2001)
The Vulture and the Little Girl – Kevin Carter (1996)
Tank Man – Jeff Widener (1989)

Varun Grover’s poem “Hum Kaagaz Nahin Dikhaayeige” turned into a slogan during the 2019s CAA-NRC protests.

It is art that has the power to change everything, and this power centres around the ideas of non-existence. Let me explain.

A Place Under the Sun.

Identity and its ramifications are the major threat to our survival, group identification is another major catastrophic nightmare, as history proves that individual desires and groups directed by a particular agenda are never a good thing.

The job of an artist is to let go of the identity and accept that being human is like being water. No shape, form or bias, just as fluid, and in an ever-dynamic flow state.

Guru Amar Das quotes ‘man tu jot swaroop hain, apna mool pachaan’, iterating the same fundamental fluidity of identity.

Artists 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 tendency for exploration. Let us modify this question a little.

Suppose you are a musician, a serious one, who has devoted her life to the pursuit of this art form, as such that it has manifested in the form of a God. One morning you wake and realise that you have lost your hearing. What would you do?

Well, I know some people who got depressed after discovering they had developed tinnitus and their hearing was deteriorating; I know someone who even attempted to kill himself; and I know another person who brilliantly resolved my query once and for all.

The fatal flaw of identity is our undeterred willingness to resist change and stick to what is familiar. For example, how difficult is it for people to change their political ideology even after they discover their favoured party is ruthless, xenophobic and holds orthodox ideological tendencies? Regardless of the darkness and evil, they choose to fabricate explanations and justifications just for a belief. Hardly anyone ever follows the objectivity and decides to criticise what they once worshipped.

Read A Handful of Dates, the brilliant story about a boy who admires his grandfather, only to discover a darker side of him. This absolute masterpiece by Tayib Salih is about change, acceptance and moral awakening.

The pursuit of art is all about acceptance of this change. It is not really about the final product, because that is redundant, you could always create more and there is no limit to excellence. But the process of discovery, exploration, experiments, eradication, acceptance and an eventual upgrade to another level of human consciousness is the primary goal of being an artist.

This reveals a startling fact, isn’t that the exact purpose of a human being – to grow, to transcend, in whatever form or shape?

To be an artist is to be human.

In this pursuit to define an artist, we have come so far as to deduce the pursuit of arts as fundamental as the pursuit of human existence itself.

What is art? Who defines it and puts it on the scale of shades of greatness? How do we know a song is great? Does the objective analysis of numbers and billboard positions determine its greatness, or is it the reputation of the artist that proves a point? Or is there some other objective parameter, like the production quality, the melodic interpretations, the lyrical themes, the arrangements, the instruments, the session players, etc?

Perhaps, it is a wrong question to ask. But is there ever a wrong question?

To think about the greatness or lineage or legacy is an exact abhorration of artistic integrity. Richard Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” quotes that memes could have a very powerful meaning for existence, but this is a different perspective.

The question is not about meaning or purpose, but the intention, the energies that are materialised into art and their inherence to the process of creation.

Perhaps, art is absolute expression elucidated by being in the now; and about the freedom that ensues during the process, and never about the final product or art.

To be an artist is to be human, and to be human is to be free.

There is one global definition of freedom that we arrive at, which is universal and could be applied to all forms of life and moralities.


Freedom is this detachment from the ego, the set of beliefs, principles and affirmations that hold our identity together.

Freedom is the acceptance of change, opening to the universe and letting it affect you, move you and compel you to orient your intentions. It doesn’t mean accepting defeat and giving up, but it runs far deeper than an obvious superficial isolation of a specific routine.

It is about accepting your limitations, and shortcomings, and knowing that if you set your intentions straight, and put your heart and soul into it, there is nothing in the world that you cannot do. Freedom is the realisation that identity holds you hostage and limits your growth and ascension.

Greed and desire are simply the physical manifestations of deep-seated fear and insecurity. Art sets you free. An artist is water – fluid, evolving, shapeless, formless, ever-dynamic, and accepting but still powerful enough to move mountains.

It is a substantial ordeal to explore who or what is an artist. It feels like biting more than one can chew, perhaps that is how we learn.

Defining an Artist is a very humble attempt to give a structure to the hazy understanding of art and artists. It is exciting, very much so, and comes naturally to me. Of course, to sit and write takes effort and perseverance, but trying to answer the question is not as dramatic as it sounds.

So far, defining an artist has led me to establish expression, freedom and humanity at its core. Obviously, it is not as simple as that, but even if we as people imbibe just these fundamentals, life would be way more peaceful and not quite as dramatic.

Congratulations on making it to the end. I am doing 30 Days of Writing, a self-imposed challenge where I try to write one text every day for 30 days. Today is the 4th day, and honestly, I didn’t even think I would make it to Day 2, but here we are.

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