The Cool Continuum

Cool Continuum
6 min readJun 5, 2023
Cool Continuum by Jason S. Comely. All rights reserved.

What you see above is the Cool Continuum, a new and holistic perspective on artistic expression. Not only does it categorize every kind of artist, it identifies their unique contributions across diverse domains like music, visual arts, literature, fashion, and film.

Its strength lies in capturing an artist’s “natural state” — where their distinct qualities stand out and their impact is felt most. Moreover, it acknowledges that artists aren’t static. Throughout their careers, they grow and evolve, potentially shifting between categories as their skills, styles, traits, and influences develop.

This perspective is visually captured using a target-like design with concentric circles. As you move towards the center, the circles become smaller. This signifies that fewer artists fit into these central categories. Artists in these inner circles are often known for their advanced technical skills, deep theoretical insights, and proprietary methods (i.e. the platforms or techniques they create or extend in transformative ways).

The Cool Continuum comprises five distinct levels: “Outsider,” “Rebel,” “Artisan,” “Innovator,” and “Genius.” Each level reflects varying degrees of proficiency, understanding, and style.

Let’s look at each level in detail:

Level 1 “Outsider”

Level 1 “Outsider,” the largest segment on the outer rim of the continuum, captures artists who are often without formal training. They tend to explore art through the lens of other established artists or cultural movements. These individuals may be unpublished or unrecorded, but that doesn’t limit their desire for self-expression and the sheer joy they find in creating.

Whether because of a lack of education or a deliberate choice to follow non-traditional routes, Outsiders are, well, outside the norm. Their work doesn’t always make it to the mainstream, but when it does, it’s often due to its raw, authentic qualities rather than commercial appeal.

Despite their basic grasp of traditional tools or techniques, these artists connect on an emotional level with those who feel like outsiders themselves, offering a voice to marginalized or non-mainstream audiences.

Even if most Outsiders remain relatively unknown, they still inspire those who are drawn to authentic, but unrefined, artistic expression.

Dominant character traits: uninhibited, authentic, nonconformist, empathetic, spontaneous.

Examples include: Henry Darger, Astrud Gilberto, and Yun Hyong-keun.

Level 2 “Rebel”

A Level 2 “Rebel” in the Cool Continuum is like the middle child between the untrained “Outsider” and the skilled “Artisan.” While they have more know-how than Outsiders, they usually aren’t as polished as Artisans. These Rebels do familiarize themselves with some basic rules, tropes, and cliches, but their main goal is to subvert them. This familiarity allows them to navigate traditional frameworks, but they’re more interested in bending or breaking the rules than following them.

Rebels experiment just enough to find what they can disrupt or question. Their work is characterized by risks, which stem from a willingness to dabble in the known only to unsettle it. They’re undaunted by criticism, largely because their intent isn’t necessarily to improve upon established norms but to challenge them. Instead of conforming, they’re committed to bucking the trend.

Their personal lives often mirror this unrestrained approach. They might lead edgy lifestyles. Their actions aren’t just confined to their art; they bring these actions to life, making them tangible expressions of their philosophies.

While Level 2 Rebels might not achieve widespread success, they leave a boot mark on the art world. Their example illustrates that staying true to oneself can result in success and influence, provided one has the guts to take the leap.

Dominant character traits: defiant, unrestrained, impulsive, bold, adventurous.

Examples include: Syd Barrett, Quentin Tarantino and Garth Ennis.

Level 3 “Artisan”

Level 3 “Artisan” in the Cool Continuum represents artists who start with basic skills but grow to become masters in their field. They labor diligently to develop a distinctive style that others may attempt to imitate but never quite capture. These artists also make thoughtful choices in how they present themselves and their work. Branding and perceived value are important to them.

As they improve, these artisans push their genre or medium further. They may mix unconventional elements to add complexity and depth to their creations, thereby influencing other artists and enthusiasts across different forms of art.

Although a Level 3 ‘Artisan’ usually dedicates their life to one art form, this isn’t always the case. They are recognized for their mastery, their connection with their audience, and their inspiration to future creators. The results of their craftsmanship ripple across time and various artistic fields.

In essence, these artists’ work is about more than mere technical ability. It’s about commitment and personal evolution. Often, they spend their entire careers honing their craft, continuously refining their work, making them true Artisans in the world of creative expression.

Dominant character traits: dedicated, perservering, disciplined, meticulous, methodical.

Examples include: B.B. King, Stephen King and Beyoncé.

Level 4 “Innovator”

Level 4 Innovators on the Cool Continuum are pioneers who “think different”, as the famous Apple slogan goes. They push past usual ways of doing things and try new, creative approaches. Their work isn’t just about being different; it’s deeply personal and often reflects who they are. They experiment compulsively and obsessively. And it’s not just people in the art world who notice — their work often becomes well-known and can even upend popular culture.

Being a Level 4 Innovator isn’t about following a set path. It could be about having fun with something new, a reinvention of tradition, or finding a new way to break the rules. They’re individualists with high interiority. Their work is not just a display of technique but a means of self-expression, allowing emotions, beliefs, and subconscious thoughts to manifest.

These innovators also inspire others to think creatively. They’re not about quick, brilliant ideas but the result of hard work, trying new things, and taking chances. Whether it’s breathing new life into old traditions or finding entirely new ways of expression, Level 4 Innovators keep the world of creativity exciting.

Dominant character traits: creative, individualistic, curious, ambitious, open-minded.

Examples include: Pablo Picasso, George Strait and Brian Eno.

Level 5 “Genius”

At the peak of the Cool Continuum is Level 5, the spot reserved for the “Genius.” The fact that this central area is the smallest within the visual model is a deliberate choice, designed to reflect how few these incredible artists truly are, and how singular they are in their abilities.

The Genius transcends conventional techniques to create profound work. They demonstrate unparalleled technical proficiency, blending mastery and creativity to redefine their respective mediums. Their work is not confined by rules; instead, they use their insights to dissolve boundaries, often collaborating with other top talent to achieve their vision.

These Geniuses connect deeply with universal themes and emotions, converting personal insights into narratives that are meaningful across cultures and time periods. They possess the ability to transform the mundane into the miraculous and make other artists better.

In essence, the Level 5 Genius on the Cool Continuum represents a rare convergence of technical mastery, creativity, universality, and lasting influence. In fields ranging from literature to painting to music and film, these artists both contribute to and define what art can be, changing the way we see the world.

Dominant character traits: insightful, intuitive, visionary, perceptive, driven.

Examples include: Miles Davis, Matsuo Bashō, and Johannes Vermeer.

The Rest of Us

Theoretically, there is also Level 0. It represents individuals, the “Uninitiated”, who have not yet begun their creative journey or who aren’t interested in making art.

The Cool Continuum is a perspective shift, a new lens by which to study art and the artists that make it. Its strength lies in its subjectivity, which means you are invited to contribute your perspective to shape our collective understanding of what it takes to make art.

Enjoy the artist profiles on this blog. They serve as roadmaps to artistic success, offering valuable takeaways from each artist’s career. Learn what you can from these narratives and reflect on your own artistic path.

Remember, the Cool Continuum isn’t just a spotlight on other artists — it’s an opportunity to reflect on how you too can make your mark in the art world.

Welcome to the Cool Continuum.

Cool Continuum is a collaborative effort by Jason S. Comely and ChatGPT. For more artist profiles and ideas on how you can make your mark on the art world, follow me on Medium.