Over the course of my life, I’ve witnessed a lot of soft, privileged kids say things like “Art is sacred,” “Art should never be sold,” “Art should be a certain way.” They really care about art, and define their self-worth off of being “artists” or consuming art.
First of all, a lot of these artistic-inclined kids end up working for corporate America. A lot of them might be against the idea of “selling out,” when they don’t realize that literally every important artist has “sold out,” in some capacity, i.e. made a conscious decision to get money, for their art.
I know “artists” that talk about how art shouldn’t be sold who work in boutiques where they sell clothing made by a 5-year-old malnourished child in Southeast Asia. So let’s stop with the hypocritical, ignorant snobbery.
I respect an artist who gets money. In our capitalistic society, making money often entails the exploitation of another. Work in a clothing store, you sell dirty clothes. Work in a restaurant, you sell dirty meat. But if you’re able to make money off of music, or paintings, or writing, then holy shit, you’ve actually beaten the capitalism grinder and been able to succeed in our economic system while doing something you love, bringing happiness to others, and exploiting no one. Good job.
I’ve also noticed that some people think art should be a certain way. That art should be beautiful, or serious, or complex. That’s bullshit too. Art is anything. Lil B makes art. Insane Clown Posse makes art. Stitches makes art. I’ve also noticed that the people who talk the most about the way art should be—critics and academics, holed up in universities—often barely make any art themselves.
What this all comes down to is, people thinking that art is sacred, or somehow above other fields. Or that being an artist, even if you’re completely unsuccessful and unproductive, is inherently special.
To see that art isn’t sacred, let’s break down what art is.
There are several different types of intelligence. Logical-mathematical, interpersonal, spatial, visual, etc. Careers—or “crafts,” i.e. the craft of selling, the craft of writing, the craft of accounting—utilize combinations of these intelligences in order to contribute to society.
These crafts center around a primary intelligence. An accountant uses logical-mathematical intelligence. An athlete uses bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. A psychologist uses interpersonal intelligence.
But there’s a special type of intelligence—creative intelligence—that is the X-factor between mere competence and innovation. Creativity is imagination, or the ability to think up something where there was previously none. What sets a great athlete, computer programmer, or entrepreneur apart is their use of creative intelligence. A great athlete imagines new plays. A great programmer imagines new ways of coding. A great accountant imagines new ways of organizing numbers.
In art, the primary intelligence used is creativity. Writers, filmmakers, painters, their entire purpose is predicated on creating where there was none before—a movie, a book, a painting. But they all are married to another intelligence as well: for writers, it’s verbal-linguistic intelligence. For filmmakers, it’s visual intelligence. For musicians, it’s musical intelligence.
So the term “artist” is a weird one—I prefer “craftsman.” The craft of writing, the craft of filmmaking, the craft of painting. And how do these crafts contribute to society? They, like athletes, entertain and inspire people. They shed light on the human condition. Just like engineers, doctors, and janitors do, they make our lives better.
Broken down into this, art is just another profession. To me, the craft of writing is the same as the craft of construction, or medicine, or basketball. It’s simply a craft that contributes to society. It’s one of the most fun and exciting things to do—hence the reason why so many people want to go into it—but it’s just a profession. Writers or artists aren’t better than anybody.
History backs me up. When we look at the greatest accomplishments and people of antiquity, if art was really what it was all about, then we would only remember the artists. Instead, we remember the best scientists, artists, engineers, generals, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, and politicians. In 2000 years, if human history lasts that long, they won’t just remember our artists. Time, like a sandstorm, blows away the superficial. So when we look at history’s most important characters and accomplishments, they show art as equal to everything else.
Art is the byproduct of a highly advanced civilization that doesn’t have to worry about survival, that applies its intelligence to things that enhance leisure or understanding of life. Art is a luxury—there’s a reason why, throughout history, the rich have domineered both the production and consumption of art. It’s very easy to say things like “All I care about is art” when you live in a big house, don’t have to worry about money, and are looking for higher fulfillment in life because you’re so bored.
And this is coming from me—I personally think creativity is the most attractive trait in someone. And apart from being an athlete, an artist is the coolest thing to be. And if I’m not doing something creative—or at least something that I love—in 10, 15, years, find me. Show me this article. That’s how much confidence I have in myself to succeed creatively. But I would never think I was better than other people because of my profession or success. I would probably just think I was more fortunate.
Art isn’t sacred. Nothing is sacred. Sacred implies God, and if you look at any religious text ever made, they don’t talk about art. The human experience is much, much more than art. It includes traveling, making friends, falling in love, having children, losing your parents. Not just making and consuming art.
And just calling yourself an artist doesn’t make you one. It doesn’t mean you’re different than non-artists. If you want to be an artist, you have to realize that you’re not special—at least at first. You have to put in the work. You have to be a professional about it, and you have to confront the real world.
Art isn’t sacred. You’re not special because you like or make art. You’re special because you make major contributions to society, be it through art, entrepreneurship, or science. Sorry but it’s true.
Read the companion to this piece, “Art Is Sacred,” here.