Can anyone actually define what a "True Artist" is? (2)

This is a follow-up on my last post here on Crucial Talk and completes the transcription of my posts on the thread "Can anyone actually define what a "True Artist" is?" on the LinkedIn forum

I suppose the initial question better be reframed as "what is a true visual artist". Music relates to something else than the visual but it is nevertheless also an art. Is it not?

Historically visual art has always been about giving a visual representation of reality for all to share for the very simple reason that an image has always been worth ten thousand words. So if history is of any guidance visual art is about generating visual signs containing the present state of knowledge about reality. And as Titus says it so well the visual form of representation is not necessarily related to what the eyes can see (realism) because what the eyes see contains very limited knowledge indeed. Music is about something very different...

Having said so we better remain humble. Reality (the whole of reality) is physically unattainable to humanity. At best we make approximations about its nature based on the body of observations available to the men of knowledge of the day (shaman under animism, clergy under religion, new rich merchants in early modernity, scientists in high modernity and everyone's opinion today in late modernity).

In short the true artist is the one who illustrates the state of knowledge about reality in his day.

But since today everyone is democratically invited to compete on the level playing field of the market for ideas are artists supposed to illustrate the popular trends shaped by marketing? No! This is the job of publicists who create visuals of commodities. But then... where is today's knowledge about reality to be found by artists? I dare suggest that since the men of knowledge have been erased of the societal equation by market economics and political democracy the only choice for the real artist is to generate his own knowledge learning from science, philosophy and history.

Today's true artists can only give visual signs of the state of their own knowledge and in doing so they are acting like the prospective shaman of late modernity.

"Simply because 'real' is in Realism doesn't mean a thing towards what is real or not, in art or anything." This is so right Jordan.

Realism is a way of painting that erupted out of the values of the new rich merchants (individualism, private property,...) who wanted to supplant the values of the church (late Middle-Ages, Renaissance). And so Europe got then stuck with realism and its 3 obliged subjects of painting for the next 4 or 5 hundred years: landscapes around the mansion, portraits of the people in the mansion and stills of what lays on the tables in the mansion.

Under the growing influence of entrepreneurship, rationalism, science, and technology those 3 obliged subjects of realism start to be contested by a rare few artists in the 2nd part of the 19th century (remember the "societally scandalous" potato eaters; Van Gogh's personal favorite work painted in 1885 while in Nuenen) and at the turn of the 20th century the avant-garde finally flushes realism in the toilet of history. What follows is a search by the minority of "thinking artists" (the avant-garde) for a deeper reality than what the eyes can see.

We should have the humility to recognize that this search has been largely unsuccessful till today ending with this absurd notion of "whatever is art" that is being justified with platitudes about truthfulness, honesty, creativity and other nothingnesses.

Do you really believe that "whatever is art" and its justifying platitudes have any chance to survive any longer now that most of the money that buys art originates in Asia? I already hear those angry platitudinarian voices accusing me of mixing up the art market with what real art is all about. But suffice to say that history teaches us that our understanding of reality, our culture, our values and our art are not static. They are following in the path generated by wealth adapting to its civilizational and cultural code. (from the Italian City States during the Renaissance to Bruges then Antwerp, then Amsterdam then London then New York and now emerging in Beijing...)

I suggest that instead of labouring incessantly in the fast fading Western code those who aspire being able to surf on the waves of the changing societal trends better start to inquire what the future civilizational and cultural dominating code is all about. Everyone is free for sure to believe in whatever she or he wants. Everyone is also free to behave and do whatever she or he wishes including her or his labouring in art. BUT freedom comes with responsibilities that have consequences. Chief among such consequences for the aspiring artist is the falling out of history which is the ultimate judgement on him not being a true artist...

9 months ago I concluded a long post in this thread with the words: "So, in my eyes, the true artist is someone who:
- masters the technique in which he expresses himself in order to avoid getting burdened by technical aspects in the rendering of what he wishes to express (it's a question of pragmatism in order to avoid technical limitations)
- on substance: masters a vast knowledge base in which he can fish the necessary elements to make his narrative a valid one that can resist the passing of time (The work of a true artist remains of interest to people long after his death. To make that possible the true artist must be able to surf on the waves of societal evolution for he is acting like a man of knowledge (shaman) of post-modernity.)
- on form: possesses a strong passion for gaining knowledge about our global reality. (Absolute beauty is the outcome of 3 billion years of evolution of the principle of life on earth and if humanity is to survive the follies of modernity our future worldview will necessarily have to reflect that objective beauty.)
- possesses the energy and the guts to go his way out of the security procured by the flock... The true artist is no sheep indeed."

Jack writes "I've shared throughout this discussion that any and all points of reference, are just that, including my own. Difference is James, it is not done through belittling, reactionary, nor confrontational discourse, but rather through accepting the infinite possibilities, that any and all are as relevant as any other. Period.


This assumption that any thought is no more than a statement and "as relevant as any other" terminates the very possibility of an intelligent conversation. White can now be described as what is black and black can be described as what is white in total impunity on the level playing field of the market for ideas. And those who have something substantial to say are thus relegated to compete with a bunch of charlatans for the attention of eyeballs.

Rare are those still able to sift the shaft from the grains in the communication noise and in consequence societies fragment to the point of atomization.This kind of relativism to the extreme is why late modernity concludes in such a terrible mess and in total confusion about anything relating to life and to humanity including art.

And Ron can bravely conclude "Wow, 227 comments. I have observed that almost no one agrees with each other. Thats the beauty of it. Its like everybody has their own pov, just like everybody has their own artisitc style."

Man was Duchamp right to distance himself from the art world for fear, as he said, "of appearing dumb as a painter" !!!

A good quote Ron.
Art "is a means of union among men, joining them together".

In my book "Artsense" I posit that "joining men together" is an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity. The individual can't survive out of his societal grouping. It is indeed the societal grouping that allows the individuals to survive and to reproduce.

Having said that we observe that societal groupings also use strategies to guarantee their own survival and reproduction through the enhancement of their societal cohesion. I posit that art is one of those societal strategies and each different art form is then specialized in a particular function. This seems to be a universal principle that all societies at any given time in history have been applying. The only known exception is high and late modernity that have apparently done away with the principle (roughly after 1900 in industrialized societies).

* societies use visual art to share the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day for all to share in order for their citizens to be joined together in a common understanding of reality. The most prominent human sensor is indeed vision... so it is only natural that vision should serve to share a given knowledge. (one image is worth ten thousand words).

* societies use music to shape the feeling of the individuals in order for such a feeling to spread throughout society. The idea here is that the sharing of the same rhythms and harmonics in a society generates a given mood that is shared by all the individuals. Micro or sectorial groupings have their own particular rhythms and harmonics. That's what happens when music is played in various gatherings (scout camps, parties,...). This is also being observed in churches and armies and more recently in shopping centres.

I posit that the derogation to this principle by high and late modernity generated the societal fragmentation towards atomization that is being observed nowadays in Western societies. Atomization is what you described earlier with this sentence: "Wow, 227 comments. I have observed that almost no one agrees with each other. Thats the beauty of it. Its like everybody has their own pov, just like everybody has their own artistic style."

Atomization is leading to cacophony (exactly what we observe in this thread is it not?) and later to the death of the society in which it happens.

To survive and reproduce Western societies will necessarily have to succeed, soon, in "joining their citizens together" again. Otherwise we might assist at the collapse of those societies. It is in light of that possibility that I suggested that "...freedom comes with responsibilities that have consequences. Chief among such consequences for the aspiring artist is the falling out of history which is the ultimate judgement on him not being a true artist... ". What I mean by that is that the "true artist" is the one who produces visual signs illustrating the knowledge necessary for modern societies to survive and reproduce. That also implies that it is the future that will show who was a "true artist" today. The only thing we can say for sure today is that we are all "aspiring artists".

"Technology simply supports culture. Art drives it." This is a great quote Jordan.

Ron I would only suggest a slight change: "Art to me is a language, and whoever uses that language to bring people together is an ASPIRING TRUE ARTIST. " There is indeed always this question of what the artist says with the language. That's why I believe only the future will say who is a true artist today... and I believe that history concurs with what I suggest here. Think about it. While Van Gogh had absolutely no recognition during his lifetime others were filling the galleries, the private collections and museums. But ultimately those who were considered true artists while alive got flushed in the future and Van Gogh consecrated. Were they all "true artists" or was Van Gogh the one?

First I have to correct the content of my last post. I think I answered too quickly. Often it's best to sleep on an idea before writing about it.

I agreed basically with Ron's new definition "Art to me is a language, and whoever uses that language to bring people together is a TRUE ARTIST". BUT THIS IS WRONG. What Ron says is that those who speak the language are artists. And in his last post he goes so far as to say "my wife, who is an amature artist paints a picture of the SACRED HEART OF CHRIST for Mothers Day because my Mom is a devout Catholic. Mom loves the pic, hugs my wife and they are spiritually joined. Is she a true artist, because she brought people together with a piece of art, in that case I say yes."

Language is the technique the artist is using, for example, painting, music, dance or whatever else. But the fact to use the language of painting does in no way infer that the one speaking that language has something valid to say about today's understanding of reality. Religious art had its time. For good or for bad that time has passed. The same goes for modernity. The 3 obliged subjects of realism have indeed no bearing on today's understanding of reality, I mean the understanding by those who think (scientists, philosophers, thinkers). In "What is art?" Tolstoy showed he was well aware of this: "Another problem with a great deal of art is that it reproduces past models, and so it is not properly rooted in a contemporary and sincere expression of the most enlightened cultural ideals of the artist's time and place. "

In conclusion a language is a tool of communication. Oil painting or digital software are such tools.
* The fluency in a language helps to better communicate. (mastery in technique allows for such fluency, also in painting).
* But the more important question is what you try to communicate. Content is what counts. To quote Tolstoy it has to be "rooted in a contemporary and sincere expression of the most enlightened cultural ideals of the artist's time and place".


Titus. Things change or to put it otherwise human perception of what reality is all about is continually changing. Being unattainable to humanity it is only natural that human perceptions change according to the evolution of science, philosophy and culture.
My mentioning of Van Gogh was limited to showing that the true quality of an art production is sifted through the filter of time (that's why I think we only can speak of aspiring true artist in the present). I could have used other examples for sure.
* Constant and the group Cobra who initiated a turning point in the European elites' consciousness after the 2nd ww that opened the path to the build-up of a postmodern model of political institution. But how many people know about that fundamentally world changing story?
* Hundertwasser and his "5 skins" theory that drives the European ecological wave. But again who knows about all that?
* The example of Van Gogh has this advantage that he is known the world over. Reproductions of his works hang everywhere. And the fact is that he is the symbol of the turning point from the realism of early modernity and its 3 obliged subjects. I'm not only speaking about form. In term of content the potato eaters act like a knock in the face of the 3 obliged subjects of early modern realism. But even that seems to be flying too high for most to see.


Lis you write "As for the historical, the word 'artist' is not used anywhere in the bible. Instead there are 'skilled craftsmen'."
In a post 9 months ago I tried to show where the word artist comes from. Its use is very recent indeed and understanding how the word comes about should precede anything else if we want to be serious in trying to answer the question "what is a true artist?".

Alexander. I don't think that I "over typify the specific roles which conducted the emancipation of certain cultural expression".

Fact is that the artist has satisfied a similar societal function anywhere and throughout the whole history of mankind. That is: to give visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day for all to share. (only the 20th century in industrialized countries derogates to this principle which explains the present state of confusion)

Now the term artist dates from the Renaissance (individualism, private property and thus logically "attribution of authorship" as you write). Once this is recognized the use of the term artist to qualify the image makers throughout the whole of history is naturally detached from the meaning given to it during the Renaissance. I explained this in a post in this thread some 9 months ago...

In Christian times the artist was in charge of producing visual signs of the creed (worldview of the men of knowledge of that time) and for sure this supposed he mastered the creed as well as his painting technique, or as you write: "...the whole process of painting a sacred image required a strenuous training not only in matters of craftsmanship but also of spiritual vocation".

I wholeheartedly agree with you that "True artist is not a state of social recognition". You write about his work "as something capable of transcending". Yes but let's define this:
* content: visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly who are the men of knowledge today. That's why I posit that the artist has to accumulate a valid body of knowledge (science, philosophy) in order to be able to illustrate reality through the lens of nowadays' knowledge (art academies don't help doing that).

- form: in Ron's quote of Tolstoy, art "is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings". Tolstoy meant that the visual sign must be seductive and attractive... but this remains very vague indeed. The content does not by itself "infect the viewer" in Tolstoy's words. I personally posit that "beauty" is what allows the form of a work to touch its audience. Beauty is not "in the eye of the beholder" as most people think. Beauty is something objective inscribed in our DNA as the memory of the near infinity of successful evolutionary steps that led us to being here today. But we are not really conscientious that this is in us so we need to learn to decode it in our inner self... in order to be able to project it toward the viewer and thus subconsciously touch him. (Ron ironizes that I'm often too wordy but in all honesty I'm summarizing here in a few words only an idea of beauty that takes 50 pages to explain in depth).

Concerning this notion of beauty. I just read an article by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian titled "The ecstasy of art" in which he states: "A scientific study claims to have shown that beautiful paintings produce the same brain activity we feel when we see someone we love: biologically, great art is pure joy. It's nice to have scientific confirmation of something I already knew."

We are adults is it not? So why all the fuss. The discussion about religion was limited to its relation to art. Thanks Vera, Titus and James for calling attention to a slippage...

I was saying that art has always had a "societal function anywhere and throughout the whole history of mankind. That is: to give visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day for all to share.

What does that mean?
The long history shows us 3 different worldview areas:

1. over tens of thousand and perhaps as much as hundreds of thousands of years humans were glued in tribal societies through the sharing of animism. The shaman was the man of knowledge of the tribe and also the originator of the visual signs illustrating animism. Those signs were than further reproduced by the tribe members on functional creations: pan and pots, textiles,... (Lascaux Ron...)

2. over a maximum of a few thousand years humans were glued in kingdoms and/or empires through the sharing of:
* a religious worldview in the Middle-East and then Europe
* a philosophic worldview in Eastern Asia
The priests and monks were the men of knowledge of Christianity. They sometime also acted as image creators but laymen were most generally trained "not only in matters of craftsmanship but also of spiritual vocation" as Alexander wrote.
In China for nearly 3000 years the mandarins (intellectuals) were educated in philosophy (Yi-Ching, Tao), state management (Confucius), music, poetry, calligraphy and painting.The artists were mandarinsand Xieyi painting aims to capture the Xi or energetic body underlying the Tao of the represented object which is also sometimes called "writing down the meaning of reality".

3. over a few hundred years in Europe and its geographic expansions the humans who count, those who drove society forward, were glued in kingdoms and/or republics through the sharing of the early modern credo of the new rich merchants (individualism, private property) that were illustrated in the 3 obliged subjects of pictorial representation (approx. 1500 to 1900)

4. influenced by rationalism, early science and tech., after 1900, the avant-garde rejects the idea to represent what the eye can see. The idea was that reality was far more vast than the first degree image that projects on the retina. But they failed miserably... That's why we are still stuck today with the question of what to represent.

5. In the 21st century societies around the world are bound to share a new meaning of reality. This is a necessity for the survival for humanity...

I hope this post helps to replace religion in its limited historical context. Did you notice how the timespan of each successive worldview reduces from hundreds of thousand years to thousands of years, to hundreds of years and then to extinction after 1900?

Honestly I believe it is a very bad idea to continue to mix the 2 subjects in one thread.

Why do I say that?

Harold Garde wrote something very interesting about Ron's initial question but it did not get any traction everybody being busy making an omelette with a publishing idea.


So what did Harold write?
"The 'trueness' of the artist is when the overriding goal is to achieve satisfaction for oneself in meeting ever demanding challenges."

This idea about art "to achieve satisfaction for oneself" is a new one that appeared in the US after the 2nd world war.

Having been spared the trauma of life through barbarity and not being excessively burdened by a past of theories and concepts American painters and artists are focusing on their individual feelings. This is best expressed by Jackson Pollock in "Three statements": "The method of painting is the natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather then to illustrate them". Pollock and his colleagues limit their action to the satisfaction of their personal ego, the expression of their feelings, and do not show the least interest for the impact of their works on societal functioning.

Coming out of the barbarity that had afflicted all nations of Europe artists and intellectuals proclaim their rejection of societal life as it had always been conceived of. The members of Cobra are the most explicit. Constant speaks about the release of knowledge, as an outcome of the discovery of his desires through experimentation, hoping that this newly released knowledge will generate a radically new societal experience. Art is thus conceived of as the description of a reality in the process of becoming and not any longer as an existing system that would be absolute and unchanging. The artist thus mutates into a modern shaman who brings a vision of the rejected barbarity in the hope of gaining better days for all tomorrow.

In short the war had considerably enriched the US economically while Europe ended largely indebted towards the US and with an infrastructure in taters. In the post war America ran at full speed into "marketization for consumerism" while Europe had to spend its time reordering its political houses. In short demand for visual signs for wall decoration were fast booming in the US while Europe debated about ideas. This had a radically opposed impact on the intellectual and creative approach towards visual signs in Europe and the US. The American mass market needed politically sterile visual signs in order to reach the largest spread in demand while in Europe visual signs were largely expressing a political answer against war barbarity and the hope of better days to come.

Shed in such a light we understand a lot better the differences between abstract expressionism and Cobra and its followers and we also gain a better understanding as to why abstract expressionism gained wide market recognition while Cobra and other European artists remained in the shadows of the market.

But how has the input of both sides be judged in terms of the "long history" of visual art?

I venture to suggest that from a long haul historical viewpoint:
* Cobra and the other European thinking artists will be seen as the true initiators of the unification of Europe as an antidote against barbarity. As such Cobra could well appear as an early gravedigger of modernity opening the way for later first steps into early post modernity.
* The market success of abstract expressionism will be seen as the seeding ground of "whatever is art" and the free fall into the visual absurdities characterizing the end of modern art.

So much for this American idea that art is limited to expressing one's feelings.

@ Titus
post modernism has been put in all kind of unsavoury sauces. What I mean by the term is "what comes after modernity".

I'm sorry Eileen but because nobody seems to follow manifesto I have no other choice but to post this nuts&bolts thing here.

I initially wrote that content from LinkedIn could be screenshotted but there is an even better way by directly converting the web page to PDF. See http://www.web2pdfconvert.com/
A PDF is an image so it can be tweaked in the GIMP (why pay for Photoshop?)

- Publisher
A publisher will take the bait if he sees a market. At this stage there is only hope. No hard certainties and thus no publisher biting. I honestly hope someone can prove me wrong on this one but until then...
With the advent of "On-Demand publishing" the works that sell receive proposals by publishers... Hey their business model is also changing.
So "On-Demand publishing" is the way to go.

- Colour or B&W
From the little test I did I'm guessing that we already reach over 200 pages... So I checked the "On-Demand publishing" cost for 250 pages:
- B&W: $ 9.5
- Colour: $54.50

As of today's content a book along Titus' outline would already reach around 500 pages. While the idea is interesting I believe it is unrealistic. I think that we should give each participant 1 (one) page for image and text. Jack tells us that there are 40 participants who gave their approval for publication. That gives 40 pages.
So if we limit the content of the thread to 250 pages the book would total some 300 pages.

What is the target of publishing a book?
- the content of the thread comes first
- while we are at it we can add some exposure for all the participants but this should not render the principal impossible...

@ Eileen
Thanks for yr comments.
But did you think about the implications of what I write concerning the question of this thread?

What the avant-garde started changed the societal role of the artist in society.
- Before he was in charge of the form of a visual about content he had no control over (a religious story or a modern story).
- After he must deliver the content and the execution of the form. He is still free to illustrate the content defined by past men of knowledge (priests or merchants) but in this case the content of his work is going to be out of what shapes our present time...

So after 1900 defining the content of a work becomes the artist's determinant input.
- when the artist proposes his own vision of "what is reality" he makes art.
- when the artist limits himself to expressing his feelings he merely produces an interior decoration commodity. The same goes for the illustration of past worldviews.

@ Eileen
You write: "If you take a post modern artist who brings new life and their personal take or vision AND their personal aesthetic to a "past" content (for lack of a better phrase) you can have something quite remarkable."

I beg to disagree with that idea.

The following are the facts:
1. the totality of reality is unattainable to us human particles
2. humans are constantly assailed by a bunch of existential questions
3. the sharing with others of answers to those existential questions brings quietness, piece of mind and psychological comfort to the individual
4. the sharing throughout society of a given set of answers solidifies societal cohesion
5. seen that reality is unattainable no set of answers to our existential questions can possibly be the truth
6. for all those reasons societies throughout history have recoursed to their men of knowledge to devise "valid" sets of answers (answers that correspond to the level of knowledge or consciousness or sensibility of the time)
* over tens of thousands of years tribal societies have been sharing an animistic worldview
* over a few thousands of years at best kingdoms and empires have been sharing religions in the West or philosophies in the East
* over five centuries Europeans nations and their geographic extensions have been driven by the values of modernity: individualism and private property. But modernity failed to deliver a set of answers to the existential questions and in consequence late modern societies are fragmenting and the individuals are left aching... and yearning to integrate a spiritual community for sharing answers with its members.

BUT while this yearning is understandable spiritual communities are giving answers that correspond to the knowledge and sensibilities of a past area. Putting such past answers in a contemporary form is "passeism" and not true art.

Art is about the Artist's vision of reality as of today. Not as a belief in a past vision but as emergence in her or his mind out of contemporary knowledge and sensibilities. In consequence of that particular way of looking at things artists are surfing on the waves of today's reality far ahead of the other members of society...

Jack gave a quote that says it best: ""Artists", Einstein said, "are the true visionaries of the world we perceive and the one that is coming...""

I suppose everyone agrees that, from childhood on, each individual human is assailed by existential questions (what, how, why).

Any answers to those questions are no more than stories because the fact is that reality is unattainable to us human dust.

So if reality is unattainable how can we possibly posit that there is a truth out there accessible to us?

What artists have done since time immemorial is to illustrate the story (worldview) of the men of knowledge of their day. But on the level playing field of the Western market for ideas men of knowledge are left to compete with all kinds of charlatans and as a result their knowledge fails to reach the individuals.

As a consequence:
  • the individuals are at a loss and yearn for the warmth of a sharing community
  • and societies are fragmenting

In such an environment a true artist proposes a new look at reality based on contemporary knowledge and sensibilities. This is his societal contribution.

seeing reality AS IS" is also not the truth about it my friend... it is the result of having gained bits of knowledge here and there along a lifetime and I agree that such knowledge certainly allows for a more valid outlook.

Posting to this thread on LinkedIn fully confirmed two things that matter to me intellectually:
- Marcel Duchamp's idea of the necessity to distancing oneself from the art world for fear, as he said, of "appearing dumb as a painter" !!!
- my idea that "since high modernity everyone is invited to compete on the level playing field of the market for ideas. But then... where is today's knowledge about reality to be found by artists? I dare suggest that since the men of knowledge have been erased of the societal equation by market economics and political democracy the only choice for the real artist is to generate his own knowledge learning from science, philosophy and history."

In this discussion on LinkedIn mostly everyone appears so sure to detain the truthful answer to the initial question. But that truthfulness is utterly shredded into pieces in a maelstrom of words that illustrates the sheer ignorance of the participants... which vindicates Duchamp's "idea of the necessity to distancing oneself from the art world for fear, as he said, of "appearing dumb as a painter" !!! "

But amidst the sheer ignorance of most participants some rare pearls of wisdom are shining their light on a radical change that is slowly emerging in visual arts. Those rare pearls of wisdom are why anyone interested to understand what is art should go read the entirety of the thread "Can anyone actually define what a "True Artist" is?" on the LinkedIn forum 

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