American Idol! So You Think You Can Dance. Britain’s Got Talent! Project Runway. The Great Pottery Throw Down. Blown Away.
Our screen time is filled with talent shows that try to sell us this slightly narcissistic message that we too can become the next Superstar (sparklesparkle). All we have to do for our ticket to fame and fortune – and the happiness we buy with that, of course – is to win a few episodes of an emotionally supercharged competition. Our names will be written in the history books, to the envy of our neighbors.
A Trip Through Time
For the majority of history, artists were anonymous. (notice how smoothly I segued to a different paragraph here: I truly am a master of prose) Walk into a roman or gothic church and you’ll be surrounded by the finest examples of sculpture, architecture, painting, stained glass etc. Yet, aside from a few, the names of most of their creators are lost to time. They were artisans. Have you ever seen a butcher sign their lamb chops before handing them over to you? No. Because they are artisans!
Already by the end of the middle-ages we see that artists sign their art, but it is in the Renaissance that artists discovered that their signatures were going to be worth lots of money a couple of centuries after their death and so they decided they wanted in on this deal.
With their newly acquired self-awareness they did a bit of soul searching. They felt that, actually, they weren’t craftsmen anymore. Butchers, after all, don’t sign their lamb chops. But they needed something more to set themselves apart from the plebs, and what better way to do that than to believe that you are ‘divinely inspired’, where other people are just… not.
I still don’t understand where that leaves the embroiderers. Apparently they weren’t divinely inspired enough, because on average their work is still considered a banal craft. Not worthy of the highest title of ‘Art’.
By the 19th century, the former craftsmen had figured out a new identity for themselves. From now on, they would call themselves: Solitary Geniuses. The humble artist started to take the central stage as the shaman chasing the artistic muse, in search for a new pursuit of a Higher Truth™…. And in doing so gaining the recognition from the established art world that they are better than their peers. Not that they care for such mundanities. (NOTICEMESEMPAI!)
Back To Rea-Li-Ty… I mean: Today
This idea that true art can’t be taught, but comes from within the soul, is still pervasive today. I believe this is partly why some paintings are valued so much higher than others, simply because of the signature at the bottom. Artists have become idols. Icons to be revered by wannabe icons.
We’ve become so enraptured with this concept of the divine spark, that we have forgotten to practice the skills necessary to create with our hands what our minds imagine. But great art is not just vision. It’s execution as well.
I’m not saying we should return to anonymity, but I could personally do without the believe that artists have this innate spark that can’t be taught. Please, don’t renew X-Factor. We’re already drowning in talent shows.