Living an Artistic Life

In dealing with students, one of my standard questions is, “what do you want to do [in your life]?” This is not a request for a definitive statement, but rather a question designed to cause the student to think about the future, and perhaps begin to think about goals and preparation. In answer to this question last week, one student, who is amazingly creative and very talented in at least three media (and probably several others that he has yet to discover), responded, “I just want to live an artistic life.”

Upon reviewing the conversation, I realized that, although I had heard him and understood the words, I really had no idea what he meant. Did he mean he wanted to live a life devoted to art? Or did he mean he wanted to live a life producing art? Or did he mean that he wanted to surround himself with art? Or did he mean that he wanted to adopt the lifestyle attributed to the romantic notion of “being an artist”? Or did he mean that he wanted to live a life that could be described as “artistic”? Or did he want to live a life patterned after some historical artist? Or did he want to live in “artistic poverty”? Or did he want to live the life of a rock star artist? Or did he want to live a life experiencing and studying art? The list of possibilities could be infinite.

Instead of following the sensible path and asking the student what he meant, I mulled it over for a while. I thought about what that statement would mean if someone else had said it, if I had said it. What does it mean to lead an artistic life? Why would you want to? Or would you want to?

So I asked a variety of people about it. Everyone had a different answer encompassing almost all of the possibilities mentioned above. Some of the responses seemed to be related to age and experience, although that was far from universal. It was a decidedly unscientific sampling.

Since “living an artistic life” seems to mean something different to everyone, I wondered if all of those possibilities had something in common. The only thing that I could find was that in each case, one’s living environment was significantly touched by art in some way. At one extreme is complete immersion; at the other is just having some around. So, at a minimum, “living an artistic life” means having art in your life in some way, even if it’s only a few pieces.

Having art around seems to have been the case for a number of artists. Indeed, in the Surrealism Installation of the Menil Collection is an entire room entitled “Witness to a Surrealist Vision” devoted to artifacts that were collected from the homes and studios of various surrealist artists. These objects “range from ceremonial costumes and masks to bird specimens, surgical tools, astronomical instruments, and fetish figures,” and are reported to have “captivated and inspired these artists.”

This brief exchange has caused me to consider my own environment and whether I should try to make it more “artistic.” While I think that having art in one’s life is a desirable thing—particularly for those of us who work in the arts—I do not think that any of us have to move to a different house, or spend a lot of money modifying our décor. But it does seem to me that there are things that we can do to, even if it’s simply hanging a new print by the place we work. Or we can change a little at a time, perhaps reducing clutter, perhaps rearranging the pieces that we have. Regardless of what we might choose to do, we probably should do something to insure that the environment in which we live and work helps feed our artistic souls.

Date: Monday, 13. May 2013 0:03
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