I’ve been thinking about how to define art ever since Emily P. Freeman began her 31 Days of Artful Living series a couple of years ago. Is art something that we do? Is it who we are? Who gets to decide if something is considered art?
But if I think back even further, I’ve been wrestling with my own definition of art for much longer.
In 2001, a few months before my first child was born, I remember going to a high school art show. As I looked at the displays I knew it was time to decide what I was trying to do with words and why. Moving through the exhibit, from one piece to the next, I came up with a working definition for the artistic life — that it’s the process of creating and connecting.
Art as transaction, in other words.
I had a guest post over at Modern Mrs. Darcy a few days ago and in the comments section tried to explain this very sterile / non-lovely / perhaps controversial* picture of art.
Before I was published, I ached and ached for that final step of connection. All I could do was write my best and consistently submit to agents and editors. The connection portion was out of my hands. I found myself getting anxious, bitter, envious, all that lovely stuff. Even though I continued to feel the artistic process was incomplete without that final step, I had to make peace with how I was going to feel about my work and how it was (or wasn’t) received.
Honestly, it’s still that way. There’s no promise what I write now will get anywhere. So I often have to lay that part of things aside and just write for myself. I am the one the work needs to connect with, ultimately. Oh yes, I want the “real” readers. Always, always. But the work is the satisfying thing, not the contract or recognition. It gets harder once people are looking in, anyway. I’ve had moments where I’ve been paralyzed worrying about how things would be received.
Publication — that final step — adds a complex layer to things. It means the art no longer belongs to just me. It’s the final step in letting go of a thing that was always temporarily mine.
Somehow, I’m able to hold these two opposites at once: Art isn’t complete until it’s been given away. Art is ultimately for ourselves.
What do you think? How do you define art?
*Am I saying only those with a audience are the trust artists or that our efforts are only legit once shared with someone else? I’m not fully sure, actually. But for me that final step is part of the creative endeavor — even if that only means I’m pleasing myself.