She works late, hunched over a table, narrow, spread fingers splaying out thoughts while the last of the light straps around the strong beat of her heart. Outside lies a world forgotten as the words fly, sullen leaves and dead ashes swirling, branches stirring like water, drowning in the fading light.
He works late, bent over a shop table, hands scarred and toughened by work, stitching, molding, creating something that will hold a life. In the corner a fire, warming his hands, driving him to completion, even as his breath quickens with the effort, drawing into his lungs, the searing dark.
What defines art, and what makes an artist?
Art is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing limited to drawing or painting or music. It's simply a part of your inner self. I know artists who write, who craft with wood, who create things from fine leather, who take photos, who play an instrument. All leaving that permanent mark of their souls occupation.
Creativity for these people, the expression of it, through picture, word or craft, is a way of celebrating, of showing what it means to be alive, and the most salient feature of existence is the unthinkable odds against it.
For every way that there is of being here, there's an infinity of ways of not being here. Historical accidents wipe out whole universes with each movement of the clock. Statistics label us ridiculous. Thermodynamics prohibit us. Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible, with random acts of irrationality and loss wearing us down, pulling the color out of our blood. Yet, for some of us, we keep drawing in breath after breath, pulling in precious moments of oxygen with the remnants of our happiness, until our blood darkens with strength, slowly filling up those empty chambers in our hearts.
For the artist, creating is a way of taking that breath, of saying in the face of all that impossibility, or dangers that lurk in the dark streets and minds of man, just how worth celebrating it is to just be here. I am here, I created this, this little piece of me, whether you like it or not, it IS me, and it will be here long after I am gone.
You can tell much of a person, of even a country, by what they value as art. We all have our own taste, I prefer old pieces, nothing modern or abstract. I like to look at art and see something that was actually real. Artists of the 17th and 18th century knew this so well, depicting it in paintings of luscious fruit and wildlife, a ripe red apple next to a fox so carefully wrought that a single drop of blood can be seen along a fine whisker. In studies of faces that bloom in layers of ancient varnish, the curve of a a child's cheek revealed gradually, the glint of light on a coat of arms or the promising, secret gleam in a woman's eye that belie the fact that the persons in these visages are hundreds of years gone. For that moment, in those paintings they are still with us.
When the artist is alive in any person, whatever their kind of work may be, they draw people in. They educate, provoke, enlighten, opening our minds to discovery.
Art tends towards order, balance, a judgement of relative values, yet limitless boundaries. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, the artist opens it, showing there are still many more unwritten pages. The world would stagnate without them, just as the world is beautiful with them; for they make us think and feel and strive as they themselves gain in the work, not outside of it.
The true artist would create even if they had no audience. Yet they regard their work as a means of talking with mankind, not with their lips, but with their mind. Being an artist is not a question of pay. It is not a question of willing acceptance on the part of the public. If they are recognized and earn something for their creatvity, to further it, that is good. But even if not, they would still have spoken. And we are all the better for it.