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What it means to be an artist

I’m one of those people that actually feel ASMR. Slow and meticulous hand movements induce a strange pleasant pain in my forehead. My eyes close halfway, as my mind drifts into different worlds. ASMR is strange and very different for everyone who is lucky enough to experience it.

I was on an ASMR Facebook page when someone asked something about ASMR artists. From their discussions, I understood that they have absolutely no idea of what it means to be an artist. Everyone with a microphone and a basic understanding of ASMR, is an artist. They could not be farther from the truth.

I, myself, always dreamed to be an artist. I was a professional photographer for 14 years, I studied photography from every angle, learnt its in’s and out’s. But still, 14 years later, I cannot classify myself as an artist. So, what are the implications of this title? What does an artist have, that no one else has?

During this article, I would like us to explore together this strange, painful, sometimes awkward world that is completely out of our understanding. It can end up in a long read, but hopefully you will have the patience to go through it all.

Art is an infinite mix of rules, guidelines and feelings, in which everything and nothing matters; a mix in which you have to think with your mind and heart at the same time, and the ratio between them changes with each piece. Art means infinite freedom within the limits imposed by conventions and your own imagination. Art is the ultimate way of communicating what you feel.

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Artists vs craftsmen. Traits of an art piece

Craftsmen are one of the oldest jobs there ever was. By hitting two pieces of stone together, ancient men noticed that they produced a sharp edge. Arrow heads, axes, knifes, all these tools were born out of necessity. But some of them are beautiful, gorgeous pieces, crafted with love and care and maybe years of experience.

Can we call these creators artists? Highly unlikely. At least in my understanding, art has some traits that must be met in order to be called art (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

So, what are these traits? Firstly, an art piece has limited or no utility. Art is not made to be used everyday, as regular usage usually damages the object. Art is made to invoke a feeling, to infuse a room with meaning, with sentiment. One definition suggests that artwork “is created to be beautiful or to express an important idea or feeling”. Of course, there are exceptions, but usually timeless art pieces are hanged by walls, put on obelisks, worn on necks and fingers, or tucked away securely in museums and vaults. The intrinsic value of an art piece results from the stories it tells and not what you can do with it.

Artists vs engineers

One notable exception of the previous paragraph are buildings. No one builds a beautiful building just for the artistic message, all buildings should be used and useful. Great architects are visionary people, that infuse engineering with artistic values, combining the coldness of math and resistance of the materials equations with the sheer beauty emanating from a gorgeous piece of art. A great deal of care and time is dedicated into making beautiful and functional spaces, balanced lines, well lit living areas and comfortable homes, all within a confined three-dimensional space.

But does this mean that every building is an art work? Of course not. Houses may be pretty/beautiful, the living space may be well balanced, it can even be made in a specific style, but that does not necessarily make it an artwork.

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Artists convey a message and/or give a meaning

The subtitle already summed up this whole part. Let’s think about a good novel for a few moments. The book itself is useless. You can maybe start a fire in a cold winter night with it. But is it worth it? Of course not! Deep meaning is embedded inside its covers, within pages that are full of color, landscapes, people, ideas, feelings and lessons to be learned. And these are all reduced to words, that are usually described by authors as “void of meaning, bland, grey”.

Art is a way of communicating, so one of its purposes is to make an eternal statement. To teach a valuable lesson. Or raise a question. Possibilities really are endless here.

One of my favorite photographers from all times is the one and only Ansel Adams. You may or may not have heard of him. You may or may not know that he developed (along with Fred Archer) the Zone System, by which all the cameras in the world are working today (it’s the basis of auto-exposure). He dedicated his life to capture beauty in landscapes and the majority of his work was in black and white (more correctly monochrome).

But, if you analyze at his photographs, no apparent message pops out. Wavy rivers, majestic mountains, gorgeous flowers, all beautifully captured in mind-blowing detail. Can it be art if there is no apparent message?

The keyword here is apparent. What do you feel when you watch his work? If you are not familiar with it, please take a few minutes to google him and return to this paragraph. All those gorgeous moments make you fall in love with nature, with our Earth. Deep feelings of gratitude flow through your brain as your eyes explore the image. Yes, we LOVE our Earth! We love our home. And maybe we should act more in order to preserve it for our children.

Message and meaning in art doesn’t necessarily have to be apparent. You can also convey feelings, encouragement, warnings, dreams. The list is endless. And this leads us to the next part.

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Thinkers outside of boxes

We are living in confined spaces, no matter how free we feel. Apartments, cities, countries, continents and even the Earth itself are nothing but prisons for our bodies. Boxes of safety, if you prefer. Of course, it depends on how you want to view something, but different opinions can and have to be discussed because here lies the true freedom.

Artists are a lot like children: they question everything. Why does something have to be a certain way? What happens if I change it? How would this look over there? Never accepting anything for granted, keeping an open mind to everything (yes, even taboo stuff) and asking questions with genuine curiosity is extremely beneficial. The brain keeps learning, keeps developing and evolving. The result is a highly creative person that will notice even the most common and small things in life. Maybe even make art out of them.

Artists are creative people. But creative people are not necessarily artists.

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Creativity is an artist’s lifelong journey to happiness

There is nothing that a person seeks more than happiness. It’s the result of all our struggle and efforts. Satisfaction leads to happiness. Wealth also leads to it. Love, food, exercise, work, creation, every little aspect of our lives, absolutely everything that we do is for our happiness. It is our ultimate goal. We truly are a selfish species.

But the interesting thing is that, actually, we don’t need much to be happy. We don’t need the things we think we need, in order to be happy. Also, happiness is not permanent. We hear that money does not bring happiness, nor can you buy it. This is because simply owning something is not a sufficient reason to be happy. Deep inside we all desire more meaningful things. We want to matter, to be remembered, to be important. Money is often seen as a means of getting that. But so does knowledge. Who was the richest person when Plato was alive? Or Archimedes? Or Einstein for that matter? The most important people in the history were not the rich ones.

For an artist, creating a piece of art is a way of satisfying the internal urge for importance. Embedding meaning, pouring our hearts, fears and desires into that piece, makes it our child. And we love it, no matter what others say. Art can provide validation, immortality. This is what truly makes an artist happy. Knowing all that stuff and expressing it in a piece feels like giving birth to a child.

If you ever get the change, talk to an artist. Discover what are their passions, what drives them. Just listen to what they have to say. You will be amazed.

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The drama of an artist’s life

Artists are usually visionaries. Archimedes and DaVinci are only two examples of artists that were way ahead of their times. But we are a rather conservative species, we do not accept the new easily. This means that artists are usually not understood, and, unfortunately marginalized by society in general. We tend to mock them, laugh at them, label them as weirdo’s.

It’s not easy being misunderstood, or not understood at all. And it’s not easy being in the studio lights either. Actors often feel empty, drained and just want to be left alone. They equally love and hate the attention they get. They equally love and hate being alone.

Other artists can only create if they are miserable, suffering. Many poems were written this way and we can feel these hard, painful feelings that transcend words. These artists suffer voluntarily for their art. The more they suffer, the more beautiful it is. We, the viewers, end up admiring something that bled someone’s heart, that drained him to the point of ‘lack-of-will-to-live’. There is no easy way to describe this. The artist’s drama is often forgotten or discussed as a mere curiosity. We are extremely selfish.

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Artists and mental disorders

Some recent studies (see below references) have questioned if there is a link between creativity and mental disorders. Artists are not really normal people. Their reasons to live and dramas unfold very differently than ours. They feel the wind and sun differently. Rain pours on their hair singing other songs. What is important in life for them can wildly differ from ours.

I don’t want to say that all (or the majority of) artists have problems. But it seems that our “normal” brain somehow blocks creativity. Or we block it with our conforming lives. Maybe some changes in their brains eliminate barriers that we see as impossible to cross. Maybe those disorders unchain brain routes that open impossible correlations. Or maybe we are the ones with disorders. Who knows. The only thing I know is that we have to be open. I mean really open. Open to see, not just look. Open to hear, to feel, to understand. Open to experience.




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It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Don’t strive to become something you cannot become. Find your path, your love, and stick to that. Oh, and make time to properly read the article. You might just learn something new. Or you might teach me something new. Who knows…

Thank you for your time.



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Rudolf Erdei

Rudolf Erdei

Just a regular guy with a lot of passions.