Art isn't just a picture hanging in a museum. There isn’t enough shelf space in all the museums of the world to hold the amount of art that is available to us. Yet, we continue to insist on defining art as paint we put on a canvas that hangs on a wall. So, let's be clear, because museums don’t define art (or good art for that matter), we do.
Art is anything we do as a human that brings emotional labor to make a connection.
If we can expand our definition of art, we can start to see it everywhere we go, in the people we meet, in the work we produce. For example, no one chooses to go to the DMV on their spare time, we have to go to the DMV. If you can find a DMV clerk that is delighting the people around her, I can show you an artist.
You might have heard of Jackson Pollock. Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential artists of his generation. What many don't know is that he had an older brother named Charles. Charles Pollock was a painter, not an artist.
Charles insisted that his work be like his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton. If you look at a Thomas Hart Benton drawing (next) and a Charles Pollock drawing (below), their work is nearly identical.
Without a doubt Charles had put in the hours it takes to master his craft. But what he lacked wasn't technical skill—it was guts. The guts to try things that might not work, to strain the boundaries of what's possible, to show us how he sees the world. And that is why no one remembers Charles Pollock.
Here's another way to look at this: In Dafen, China, it is estimated that over 60% of the world's oil paintings are produced in this small village. If you were to go there, you would find rows and rows of painters copying the same painting they produced the day before.
This isn't art. This is the industrial act of putting paint on a canvas.
Our choice, our opportunity we have as human beings is to create art—to do work that helps us connect with each other, work that might fail, work that helps us bring joy and meaning to our lives, to do something that hasn't been done before.
We are more than students, accountants, doctors, lawyers, clerks...we are more than our resume, a list of hard skills condensed to a single sheet of paper. We are artists, if we simply choose to start doing work that matters.
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