The War for the Arts

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” ― Émile Zola

What is an artist?

As a kid, my view of the artist was somewhat stereotypical—dressed in devil-may-care-styled street clothes, hair long and unkempt, holed up in some dark studio, working on an abstract painting which he will probably trash just before the last two finishing strokes, and starting over on another canvas, waiting for inspiration anew. The weird, the unconventional, the eccentric — that was my early view of the artist.

artist in studio

Image courtesy of Renee Jorgensen via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Early in life, I’ve also understood that sculptors, designers, and all else who were capable of creating works of aesthetic value were close cousins of the painters, and were part of the league of people who can be rightfully called artists. A little later on, my definition of the artist broadened a bit to include those involved not only in the visual fine arts, but also in the performing arts—dancers, musicians, theater actors. Personified by creativity, imagination, talent, and exceptional skill in creating visual or auditory spectacles — that became my view of the artist.

Image courtesy of Greg Gamble (NWSpec5) via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Image courtesy of Greg Gamble (NWSpec5) via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ve always thought it must be pretty cool to be an artist. Not everyone is granted the gifts necessary for the practice of art. The artists are the gifted ones, favored by the heavens and granted the inherent ability both to translate the intangible—such as emotions and universal truths—to tangible form, as well as to create tangible works that elicit the intangible from people. There are paintings and sculptures that leave people in speechless awe. There are musical and theater performances that move people to tears. What must it be like to have the ability to create such experiences for people, and to possess such gift, such power?

I would not know, I resigned. As fate would have it, I have not been gifted in any of the fine arts or the performing arts. I couldn’t paint stunning landscapes, I couldn’t sing to save my life, I wasn’t gifted with the dancer’s line of movement. All I knew how to do, in addition to being exceptionally good at being pretty darn ordinary, was write. I considered my inclination to write as something that naturally flowed out of my love for books and reading, and for the many, many years I wrote, I considered writing as a pursuit that’s purely intellectual — academic, rational, cerebral (okay, enough with the synonyms, I know).

It was only recently, when I reentered the world of writing after a time of being away, that I recognized writing for what it truly is—that is, not purely intellectual but also an intuitive pursuit, an art form, a challenge of creativity. Writing as a craft belongs to the realm of the creative arts as well, and writers, in effect, are also artists—crafters of words, painters of mental landscapes, seekers and illustrators of universal truths.

Image courtesy of buechertiger via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Image courtesy of Hilke Kurzke (buechertiger) via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

That I recognized myself as one of the disciples of the arts drew out two somewhat contrasting reactions from myself. On one hand, it felt good to get to call myself an “artist,” a creative in my own right. On the other hand, I felt as if I had just been given a metal armor and a helmet, and I had to go to war.

What war? The war against the discrimination of the arts as “nice hobbies” but not actual matters of importance. The war against the view of the arts as less-worthy pursuits compared to the sciences. The war against the stifling of passion in the name of practicality.

For the longest time, there has been a prevailing view of the arts as less important than the sciences, and it seems to me that society is ever hard at work to ensure that at any given time, we produce more engineers, accountants, and doctors than we do writers, musicians, dancers, and artists. What use have we of dreamers, imaginators, artists, dancers, writers, designers? The world can turn without them. We need the engineers, the doctors, the bankers, the lawyers, the scientists. Without these professionals, life as we know it would cease to be. They operate the gears that make this world turn.

Thus, passion for the arts and the desire to live a creative life are all too often squashed in our youth before they’ve even had a chance to truly flourish. It’s high time we redress our one-sidedness.

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” ― Yann Martel, Life of Pi

This is not to say that we should reverse the situation and the “practical” professions should now be considered of lesser importance. What we need, as a society, is a more balanced regard and value for the arts and the sciences. Let the child dream of becoming the next Michelangelo if he will. Teach the youth that passion for the arts is not an instinct to be struggled against, but a pursuit worth struggling for, a gift that deserves to be cultivated.

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I believe it is through the arts that we get to truly live, to express and experience the full range of human emotion, to connect to our inner selves and to others, and to find meaning in life and revel in all it has to offer — beauty, strangeness, hope, pain, and all. Ultimately, the artists may not be the ones operating the gears that make this world turn, but they’re sure the ones making the ride a whole lot more enjoyable, worthwhile, and meaningful.

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” — Stella Adler

So, going back to the initial question: What is an artist? Or, in the first place, what is art? Well, I believe we each perceive and understand art in different ways, and we each express our own brand of artistry in our own unique way as well. Thus, there might be no single way to define art, or the artist. After all, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “To define is to limit.” And art?

Art is limitless.

About the Author •

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I believe in art and in the necessity of its cultivation for a progressive nation and a more connected people, which is why I’m very excited and happy to learn that a month-long art festival, ARTEKALYE, is being held in Bacolod City every February, which has been designated as Bacolod Arts Month.

Yesterday, February 2nd, marked the opening of the 3rd Negros ARTEKALYE Festival with this year’s theme “Kultura kag Kadanyagan.” The festival takes its name from two root words: “arte” meaning “art” and “kalye” meaning “street,” so the festival name “ArteKalye” literally means “Art Street.”

And indeed, in celebration of the arts month, local painters have transformed an entire city street [Rizal Street near the Pope John Paul II Tower, Reclamation Area, Bacolod City] to a landscape showcasing impressive artistic skill and creativity, turning the area into a cultural hub where everyone can revel in a wonderful display of artistry and take part in cultivating the arts.

Also, a delightful array of exhibits, talks, and workshops in photography, wood sculpture, stainable art, craft-making, terra cotta, poetry and writing, music and film-making, dance and theater, and various other activities will be held all throughout the month of February. The art exhibits, talks, and workshops are free and open to everyone.

The ArteKalye Festival is relatively new, but it holds such promise and provides an excellent avenue for cultivating the practice and appreciation of the arts especially in the local setting, acquainting artists from different disciplines with each other, and highlighting the value of the arts in fostering both personal development and social connectedness.

Let’s enjoy the artistic displays and learn more about the arts—and about ourselves—by partaking in the festivities and the enriching experiences the ArteKalye Festival offers. Donning on my helmet and armor now and fighting for the arts. Happy Arts Month, everyone! 🙂

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