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A Little Art
Monday, Mar. 07, 2005, 7:06 p.m.

QUESTION: What is your art?

WHAT I LEARNED: Art has many faces.

image from MSN

Who is an artist and what is art?

That is the question I was pondering after talking to two members of an art commune on a busy afternoon street corner on my way to the bank. One was hawking a t-shirt that said – start a revolution. He also had a bunch of bumper stickers with the same retro saying stamped on them. Yours to have – as you can guess – for a small donation. Both young men had ragged copies of the commune’s glossy well-thumbed brochure. It featured information on all the artists in this artistic commune.

Having made the fatal mistake – eye contact – as I crossed the street, I soon found myself looking through said much-the-worse-for-wear brochure. This is how we support ourselves – the young man said. By selling T-shirts and bumper stickers? Probably not. By bumming money off the dogged working souls moving through the city streets on their way to accomplish a thousand different tasks and chores on a Friday afternoon. Absolutely.

While paging through the beat up brochure I ask him – if you are artists, why don’t you sell some of your work to support the commune?

Oh no – said the young man with the t-shirts and bumper stickers in hand. Oh no – and at least here he did not call me ma’am but proceeded on with great conviction to inform me of why this would not do - We couldn’t sell our art. We like to have it around us to enjoy. We couldn't sell any of it.


What to say? He seemed like a nice young man if a bit taken with himself.

Well. I know this is a bit of a capitalist concept – I offer - but if you need money to support your efforts maybe selling some of your artwork would be a good way to share you work and pay the commune’s bills at the same time.

Just a thought.

And then I walked away – without donating anything or having any desire to donate anything because really there was an unspoken elitism to the street corner begging barely camouflaged behind a ragged magazine, and a handful of bumper stickers and t-shirt no one would ever buy. The message I walked away with was that there are some people that deserve for other people to support them while they enjoy the pursuit of and the fruits of their art. If you are a member of a cool artist commune then why should you have to trudge off to an office or classroom or factory or store or home office like an ordinary person? You don’t have time for such drudgery. Leave that to the worker bees. You have a commune to decorate after all. Selling your art to pay the bills is ridiculous. Why share it with others – even if it pays the bills? Bills are so mundane anyway. Really, let the office worker just trying to get a cup of coffee down the street pay your bills. You so have something more important to do. Well, these fine young men did not say any of this last part but I believe that it was said as a silent subtext. It’s okay – because I don’t think they meant any offense at all by it. It was more of an innocent arrogance. I suppose it will likely pass.

In the meantime they are standing on a street corner just across the street from my office and I must find a way to walk by kindly while standing firmly for the artist soul in all of those of us who do go to work and work hard - from home raising a family, at offices, schools, factories, stores, and a score of other workplaces every day. We are the artists and the artisans of words and things and daily life. We create with paper and pen, with keyboard and computer, with ideas and enterprises. We create with our great inventions and innovations and our humble boring days built of necessary tasks and more necessary tasks. Sometimes we go home after that and paint our paintings, sculpt our sculpture, compose our music, or write our novels too.

A diarist can be an artist who gives their art away to their readers every time they post an exceptional entry. The weeded flower garden, the home-cooked meal, the tidied room, the card in the mail, the act of charity, the simple sacrifice, the help provided to a friend in need, the pile of folded laundry, the time given at the workplace to create a life for ourselves and others that is sound and satisfying when we might like to be home doing something “more fun” often serves as our daily art and our hourly craft. It is valuable and worthwhile and remarkable because we give these little aspects of our personal art away to those around us and to the world without passing around a beat-up brochure, or pretending to sell a bumper sticker or t-shirt when we really want a handout. We are everyday artists and artisans. We make the world go round. We create beauty too. Everyday.

Don't get me wrong. Fine art is fine art and it is a delightful and precious thing. Furthermore, it is wonderful to honor our great artists and to love and preserve fine art, music, and literature as it comes to us today and through the ages. However, don’t forget that the art you bring to the world is more that the art that arises out of our more formal artistic pursuits. Have respect and love for your everyday art and your everyday self too. It matters. It makes the world a little better. Everyday.

And I thank you for it. No bumper sticker required.

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