What is art?

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone last night. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, with travelling for work, meeting American colleagues in San Diego. You know, attending meetings and not knowing another soul, sitting with a bunch of beautiful, well-dressed Californians working at a fancy science/tech company. No pressure.

But this time I wasn’t out of my comfort zone in sunny San Diego, I was sitting in a hall, surrounded by creatives at a local creative entrepreneur event in Victoria, BC.  Why would that be out of your comfort zone, you ask? Wouldn’t you be right at home, and among “your people?” The answer is -- I don’t know. If you’re looking for conclusions, read no further. All that follows are the strange thoughts and feelings provoked by attending such an event.

Ever felt this way?

Arriving early is never a good idea if you’re shy and attending an event alone. I sat in a chair, staring forward, painfully self-conscious at knowing no one. Birkenstocks, man-buns, and beautifully woven scarves sailed into the room*. As each group entered, they greeted different groups, catching up with other members of the “community”. “And of course, you must know…!” they cried. I was surrounded by vocal fry, knowing nods -- as terrifying and exclusive as the posh elite they eschew.

What is art? What is it to be an artisan, or indeed a crafter? Must I create from coarse clay, or paint fine art that hangs in a gallery? How does what I do, lower than low brow, fit into this continuum? Is this why illustrator is used instead of artist? Am I too commercial? But these people haves online stores, shop fronts -- selling their wares…

By starting a business with such a low-profit margin, I won’t be able to boast recycled paper, organic inks, or the creation for a greater good -- some revelation to society.  What is the deeper meaning to my work? Where is the soul? (And further, what if I don’t believe I have one?) Unlike many creatives, woo-woo, fate, and destiny are not in my vocabulary. I don’t have a god-given gift to share with the world. I just happen to have better fine-motor skills, a fetish for art supplies, and enjoy sitting for long periods of time. I’m all science - no purpose. Does that leave room for creativity?

Forget illustrator, what about my crafter identity? Is something artisanal if it comes from an artisan? To pay myself ten dollars an hour would equal $80 for a doll, without supplies. Does it count if I use acrylic (plastic) yarns, not organic, homespun, vegetable-dyed yarn from a specific variety of British sheep? Of course, I admire these beautiful materials in yarn shops, but if I were to use them, double the price. Any takers? I thought not.

What is the story behind my work? Can I be inspired by such plebian things like design? Does my penchant for mid-century furniture make me common and uninspiring? Is admiring Mary Blair more than an abstract impressionist a sin? What about the concept of “cute”? The Japanese seem to hold the quality in high regard throughout their society, but does anyone else? Does the burst of joy I feel when I sketch count any less because it has no purpose? Or can the purpose be to create joy in others? Delight is certainly a buzzword in marketing. Am I delightful?

Despite these musings, I am committed as ever to creating the work that I do. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, sketching happily, day dreaming about my greeting card line that doesn’t really matter. This is why I think the emphasis on the “why”, while well intentioned, is harmful. I create dolls to bring happiness to the receiver, to create a “thing” brings me joy. I create artwork for cards to bring a smile to someone’s face. I am a creative: I get in moods where I feel inspired and creating keeps me level. And I think that’s enough.


*I have nothing against these things or their wearers.