An Artist’s Purpose

A proposition, for discussion and reflection:

An artist’s purpose is to create the things only they can create.

On one hand, it’s absurd to propose a normative purpose for art.  Art is many things to many people, to the point that it’s very hard to define what is and isn’t art.  (Perhaps the question “What is art?” is a mysterious question, to be dissolved into questions like “Who made this”, “What were they trying to say,” “How to audiences tend to perceive this,” and so on.)  On the other, perhaps the proposition is a way to make more concrete the nebulous idea of originality in art.

Originality is always a matter of degree; something that was literally entirely original, making no connection or reference to anything in our experience, would be incomprehensible.  Art always mixes originality – something unique which could only have been created by the specific, individual artist who made it – and tradition.

Artists chase originality, but “be original” or “do something new” are such abstract maxims that they are impossible to follow.  “Be original” makes me think of standing in front of my amplifier, dumbfounded, trying to play a note that no one has played before.  I’d be standing there a long time, without writing any songs.

“Say something only you can say,” though, seems to give me some direction.  It spurs me to look around for something in the world or in others that only I’ve noticed, or that I have a perspective on that’s never been offered before.  It pushes me to not only express my emotions but think about them, searching for what makes them mine and not anyone else’s.  Raw feelings are universal, but the conditions that provoke them and the choices we make as a result of them are specific to each of us.

Looking for inspiration?  What chords would only you think to put together?  What fresh metaphor blew through your thoughts in the shower yesterday?  What unusual spices do you want to try in a classic dish?  What underlying colors do you see in the world that others miss?  What story are you in a unique position to tell?

It’s all been done before… until you give us your take on it.  Forget convention for a minute; why not make something only you would think to make?

One thought on “An Artist’s Purpose”

  1. I like the words about blending originality with tradition. What’s been successful in the past? What do people already know? What is my spin?

    It takes a lot of time and practice and patience to share something uniquely you.

    Even the most ingenious of artists spent plenty of time, uh, gaining inspiration by studying/copying existing art.

    The trick is not being paralyzed by the notion of originality.
    You have to make a lot of shit first.
    In three years of story-telling, I’m still looking for my unique voice,
    but existing stories are my springboard.

    Now I want to go on really long tangents about how sometimes it’s not even who has the best unique story to tell, but rather, who has the money/resources/time/talent to promote their story the loudest. That often can be mistaken for originality, when you squash the other artists.

    Anyway.

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