Jacob Lawrence, "Artist With Tools," 1994
Jacob Lawrence, Artist With Tools (1994)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

Three peculiar ideologies of the work which artists do.

Inspiration is an ancient Greek pagan theory of artistic production in which a god or spirit dictates, that is, inhabits the psyche of the artist; thus the artist's work could be properly credited to Apollo. It's the opposite of discipline.

Creativity suggests some kind of godlike power to conjure something from nothing. Hidden by that snap of the fingers is the labor which artists invest; the process through which they invest it; and the technical practices upon which they draw.

Self-expression is a Romantic ideology in which works of art embody emotionally certain core elements of the artists' own identity. This subjectivity begs the twin questions, if art is self-expression, how is it possible for others to understand it?, and, why should they care?

These ideas are problematic not because they're garbled but because they're debilitating. Inspiration deadens productivity: I can't work right now, I'm not inspired. Creativity, harkening back to its godlike origin in religion, implies some special brain function outside the ordinary. I can't be an artist; I'm not creative enough. Self-expression frees mediocre artists from the labor of generality. I don't care if my work is helpful: it's my self-expression.

These notions hide what matters. That art is labor; that artists employ historically-and-culturally-delimited technical practices to transform historically-and-culturally-delimited raw materials into historically-and-culturally-delimited outcomes; that discipline matters more than stimulus.