Who defines what art is?
What is your definition of “art”?
Do you consider art to be only a visual expression of creativity, separate from writing, music, maybe even dance? Do you include music and dance but not books?
Another writer and I had a brief discussion of the word on Instagram, when I posted a photo of my first attempt at “faux calligraphy” — meaning I didn’t have the pens or brushes to create the beautifully flowy words in the traditional sense, but I watched a YouTube video that showed me how to “fake it.” (Gotta love YouTube!) In my Insta photo, you can’t tell because I used a black-and-white filter, but most of the words I drew were in pencil, with others in blue and purple marker. In black and white, they all look … black and white.
But is there a black-and-white definition of artist, or art?
Of course not.
Here’s what my big ol’ Webster’s dictionary has to say about art:
- Definition 6: “Any branch of creative work, esp. painting, drawing, or work in any other graphic or plastic medium.”
That’s how I viewed art for most of my life. A work created in some type of physical medium, and not the kind of writing I do.
But let’s back up a few lines and take a look at Definition 5:
- “Creative work or its principles; a making or doing of things that display form, beauty, and unusual perception: art includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, drama, the dance, etc.: see also FINE ART.”
I have a degree in journalism (with an emphasis in news) and worked for newspapers for more than two decades.
I always described my background as “straight news,” except that it wasn’t really.
As a copy editor, in addition to news, I handled feature stories, sports copy and business content (which includes features). As the assistant editor for a magazine, I edited columns; cover stories that weren’t “news” as much as they were pieces meant to persuade, encourage and inspire; and talk of faith in the marketplace. As a summer intern at a handful of newspapers, I wrote, edited and took photos. (Heck, I even worked in ad sales and distribution as part of my education.)
This personal history — my just-the-facts background — now seems like ancient history.
As I’ve begun to surround myself with “creatives” — mostly in blogger groups but increasingly in groups where “creative writing” and “artists” seem to be part of the description — I’ve begun broadening my understanding of the term “art” and associating that word more closely with who I am.
This has been happening for a couple of years but only impinging on my conscious thought and verbal expression in the past few months.
I have several people to thank for that, including:
- Jeff Goins, whom I’ve followed for quite a while but for whom I developed an even greater appreciation since helping promote his latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. (It’s for his 30-day Practice in Public Challenge that I’m writing this, my first piece for Medium.)
- Emily P. Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways. This book has given me permission as a Christian to create not only for pure pleasure but because it’s an expression of myself as a child of God, made in His image. It’s a way to tell the world that I serve a creative God, who is the author of creativity.
- Kirsten Oliphant, who is a creative dynamo, with five kids, even more Facebook groups, a podcast, several books and courses, a new idea up her sleeve (shared recently in a private group), probably a lot more stuff I don’t know about, and a boatload of generosity. I don’t know where she gets her energy, but it seems to come from two sources: creative ideas and the Creator, himself. Kiki’s latest book, Creative Collaborations, is a perfect demonstration of her generous spirit.
- Pamela Hill, my “partner in crime.” Pam’s my cousin, and the definition of a true artist. I’ve admired her artwork, her generosity and her heart for Jesus for a long time, and this year she and I finally found a vehicle for our own creative collaboration, which we had been searching for forever. (More to come.)
Pam’s the one who sent me a sketchbook for my birthday this week; hence the attempt at calligraphy last night.
But even though I’ve been pushing myself to take more risks this year, I was afraid to “practice” on the pristine first page of the new sketchbook. Instead I drew my art on a hotel notepad and published it that way. (Still working on my perfectionism.)
Even posting on Medium was overdue because I’ve always thought of this platform as a bit more intellectual, maybe esoteric, than other places I post, such as my blogs.
But the more I take risks, the more I layer photo upon pencil drawing upon guest post outside my comfort zone, the more chapters I write in my first book (nonfiction), the less afraid I am to call myself artist. (I’ve even started thinking about writing fiction.)
My business card describes me as “writer, editor, coach,” but maybe someday I’ll simply say Artist.
Art begets art, I think, and just about anything goes.
After all, who gets to define the word?
Suzy Taylor Oakley is a writer, editor, coach and Artist. Read more about her attempts to be brave at her blog To Well With You.