Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are Artists Stupid?

A couple weeks ago I attended a design event where one of the panelists made a statement that didn't sit well with me. In fact, what she said has been bugging me for the past 2 weeks.

"You have to be stupid to be an artist," she said. Met by our collective confused facial expressions, she tried to clean it up by saying, "you have to believe that you're going to make something even though you have no idea what you're going to make."

But it was too late. The words were already spoken, the damage already done. She'd given in to the usual stereotype of artist as idiot, artist as madman, as drunkard, as addict. She was perpetuating the idea that there must be something wrong with you if you want to be an artist. It's the kind of thing that makes you ashamed to call yourself an artist when you are around people like her.

And this despite the fact that you have may have grown up attending numerous performances and going on field trips to art museums. All of this was an effort to broaden your horizons, expose you to things, keep you from being "culturally deprived." But you were not exposed to all these things so that you would want to be an artist when you grew up.

People will instead say, "you're too smart to be an artist."
A friend of mine told me her parents had basically said this.
I like her response:
"I told them, I'm not an artist despite the fact that I am smart, I am an artist because I am smart."

It is a different kind of intelligence. It involves seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated things, telling stories with pictures, creating harmony from discord, finding patterns, making new ones, communicating in a visual language, building windows into other worlds, allowing the viewer to see your vision.

It requires the judicious use of line, form, color, texture, symmetry and asymmetry. Artists give us views of the world as it is, as it should be, and as it never was. Art requires you to think conceptually. It demands the genius of making something from nothing.

So to the lady who made the comment about the "stupidity" of artists, I politely disagree with your choice of words. You do not "have to be stupid" to be an artist. You have to be brave.

Suggested reading:

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards


  1. Thanks, Kala. BTW, I just read your blog and I really like your artwork!

  2. People these days...most of them can't articulate. I can't believe nobody said to that girl, "well then, you must be a great artist indeed, sweetheart."
    Most, but not all, good art requires some intelligence to create. Oh, pardon me, I was talking about "high" art - even folk art or utilitarian 'art' like weaving, knitting or crochet requires both imagination and solid math!

  3. BRAVO! Whenever I tell people I am an artist. They always say, "You can't make any money at that."
    They try to make me feel stupid and ashamed for not being consumed with the pursuit of money.
    I always say boldly, "You pursue your riches and when you have spent dollar after dollar on every meaningless trinket, you'll find yourself in an art gallery where we'll meet again or you'll meet someone like me. Only this time, you wont think it's such a worthless pursuit."


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