Writers keep writing. All kinds of things. With lots of words. When words flow so freely, in books, blogs and quips, is it any wonder they’ve lost their value? When people are simply interested in other things, like looking good in pictures and buying condos, is it any wonder writers struggle to get by and to be heard? (In a nod to the common wisdom, writers can be excruciatingly boring know-it-alls, but let’s keep that in our back pockets for now. There are bigger forces at work here.)
So art is one part calling, but it’s also one part craft. Otherwise, anyone who had a moment of drunken inspiration could call himself or herself an artist (and many indeed do!). Craft is what an artist fights for. It’s what happens when they work over their ideas and materials, when they slowly attempt to perfect their technique. Making art is hard work — or at least this used to be the case. Today, when everyone’s an artist, the work part of the equation is held in less esteem.
Of course, government grants have been a way for artists to make some money while doing the work they love. Even though artists have become remarkably adept at using their creativity and wiles to get funding, governments continue to cut back, making this less of an option. After all, it’s much easier politically to cut arts funding than seniors’ funding. Stephen Harper has blazed his own trail and cut both.
So how do we get from Warhol’s artist-entrepreneur to Steve Jobs’ entrepreneur-artist? Clothe him in a black turtleneck, put a latte in his hand, give him a fast-paced creative job that blurs the distinction between life and work, and we arrive at the iconic bourgeois bohemian. With his style, his brand, and the relentless focus on taste and creativity in a business setting, Jobs is a model of a life artistically lived for countless creative directors, business analysts, and communications professionals. This will prove quite disruptive. Traditional artists will find themselves —and their works — competing for attention with a life lived as a work of art.
I recently met a talented young painter at an art fair who said she refused to accept work on commission. She just would not compromise on her art — and the big soulful faces that she had painted, which gazed at me with their knowing eyes, seemed to nod in agreement. On the other hand, I know talented painters who’ll happily paint a friend of a friend’s cat. They get to work on their craft, make someone happy, sometimes weepy, and pocket a nice sum. I once commissioned an artist to paint a cat, albeit one who walked upright and carried a pistol (the cat, not the artist). The takeaway? Put your cats out there, and help an artist buy some new shoes.