Artists are Indispensable! But Are You Truly an Artist?

When reading Seth Godin’s latest book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, I was delighted to learn that “Our economy now rewards artists far more than any other economy in history ever has.” 

Wow!!!  As someone who has devoted much life energy to helping artists maximize professional and personal success, this assertion definitely caught my attention.

Of course, the word artist has many meanings.  In some cases, it refers just to visual artists: painters, sculptors, printmakers, etc.  Taking a few steps back, it can also describe anyone involved in “the arts”— those who produce music, dance, theatre, or visual art.  Some expand that definition even further, including the “culinary arts,” the “fashion arts,” the “hair arts,” and so on.

But what does this sacred term—describing an indispensible class of human beings—mean to Godin?  He explains it in a section entitled “Artists Who Can’t Draw”.

“What makes someone an artist?  I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush.  There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions.  These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists.  On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt.  So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod.  You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure.  But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations.  Art is about intent and communication, not substances.”

According to Godin, it doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, salesperson, or postal employee.  Artistry is possible regardless of career path. 

And what is it that qualifies something as indispensable art?   Throughout the book, he  provides many clues:

  • Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient 
  • Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal
  • Great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator
  • Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another
  • If there is no change, there is no art
  • Art is not related to craft, except to the extent that the craft helps deliver the change
  • Art is unique, new, and challenging to the status quo
  • The safest job belongs to the artist, the linchpin, the one who can’t be easily outsourced or replaced

Ah….now I see. 

Pursuing a career in the arts doesn’t inherently make you an Artist.  Being a piano player doesn’t elevate you to the level of an Artist any more than an MBA is automatically crowned an Entrepreneur.   The first terms are about what you do.  The second ones describe how you do it and the impact it makes.

My dear violinists, modern dancers, Shakespearian actresses, and painters—you may have the title of being an artist.  But are you truly creating Art?  If so, there’s a lot of good news.  Society needs you.  What you do is valuable.  Indispensible, in fact.

If not?  Well, lots of luck…

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