Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When do we consider someone an "artist"?

It is said that a writer is someone who writes.

When I consider "spotlighting" a modern artist, I usually select people who are primarily known as fine art artists. This has not been a conscious decision on my part and until today, I really didn't put much thought to the matter. In fact, I don't usually put much thought into it at all. I just come across an artist I find interesting and I post about him/her.

Well, I decided this week that I would do someone who is mostly known as a craftsman and a webcomic artist - "Doc" Nickel, creator of The White Board. By trade, he's an machinist who specializes in paintball guns/markers (otherwise known as an "airsmith"). By academic standards, this might not qualify him as an "artist".

However, let me present the follow piece of sculpture:

Rage by 'Doc' Nickel is a sculpture wrought entirely by hand, each piece of 22 gauge sheet steel was formed using only hammers, wood blocks and small handbuilt anvils. Each of the seventy-nine individual plates are welded to an internal steel frame, all of which is supported by a graceful steel spar over a handmade Red Oak base. - from the website.

Shall we compare it to the cluster qualities of high art?

1) Direct Pleasure - yep.
2) Skill and virtuosity - definitely.
3) Style - check.
4) Novelty and creativity - yes.
5) Critism (or "illicits a positive or negative judgment") - I believe so.
6) Representation - check.
7) Special focus - yes.
8) Expressed individuality - yes.
9) Emotional saturation - most definitely.
10) Intellectual challenge - putting 79 pieces together is definitely an intellectual challenge.
11) Art traditions or institutions - okay, you got me here, but I'm still not sold that this is a valid criterion.
12) Imaginative experience - yep.

Does someone have to make a living at high art to be an artist? No. Poet and painter William Blake made his living as an engraver, printer, and illustrator. Here is my favorite work of Blake's Ancient of Days:

Perhaps Doc will not end up in the art history textbooks, but I believe he is definitely worthy of the title of "modern artist".

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