Not All Paragraphs Are Created Equal

by Stefani Rossi August 04, 2010

I anticipate this blog entry is not going to make me popular.

Therefore, at the outset, let me just say that I personally find a good deal of merit in post-modern trends of inclusivity, of questioning hard set definitions, of blurring and sometimes breaking stringent boundaries. I also absolutely believe that creative thinking, creative expression, and creative activity should be encouraged at e-v-e-r-y p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e juncture. These two things—looking at the world from a different vantage point and engaging that world with some sort of creative response—are the nucleus of transformation.

That said, I find myself in a quandary these days as I encounter responses to the following questions:

1) What is Art?

2) What makes someone an Artist?

I recognize that artists, critics, historians, and philosophers have been trying to parse out answers to these questions for over two millennia (i.e. I’m not going to resolve the debate in this particular entry). What I would like to do is raise a couple of questions, and invite your responses. (This is not a rhetorical invitation. REALLY…give me an earful, people!)

The perspective toward which I am ambivalent at the moment is: “everyone is an artist;” they’ve either forgotten that’s who they are or have been socialized to ignore their artistic genius and must therefore excavate it. In conversation with a number of colleagues, we agree that the central problem really boils down to how you define Art and Artist. I wonder: do the definitions we use to define Art and Artist have some thread of consistency with other creative disciplines?

For example, in the discipline of writing, there are accepted standards regarding components and structure. Nouns and verbs are distinct elements of language. Punctuation clarifies the idea set forth in a sentence; there are rules governing punctuation. And while there are a number of different stylistic preferences, general consensus states that a paragraph consists of one or more sentences that all address a single topic.

Let’s be honest: we recognize when paragraphs sing, and when they fall tremendously flat. Not all paragraphs are created equally! I am confident that we all have encountered writing that adheres to, or breaks away from generally accepted standards and does so with enchanting poise and finesse. In such cases writers pull off excellent writing in part because they possess a very strong grasp of those generally accepted standards. On the other hand, we all have encountered writing executed with the poise and finesse of a belly-flop. In such cases I do wonder whether or not the generally accepted standards were ever learned, let alone embraced.

My point is that we recognize standards for writing, uphold them, evaluate works according to those standards, and apply interpretive paradigms appropriate to the genre/style (i.e. we read poetry differently than novels, or essays, or plays, etc.). If, then, these standards and structures exist for writing, does it not stand to reason that a very similar body of standards, structures, and interpretive paradigms exist for other artistic disciplines? If so, how then can everything or anything be Art? If so, is everyone really an artist? These are my questions, posed to you, our readership. I do hope that you will volley back and contribute to the conversation.

I do not want to be the voice of the 2nd grade art teacher who abruptly tells a kid that they will never be an artist (happened to me! look what she knew). I do not want to pander to any sort of elitism. But I do raise these questions, because I think there is a more meaningful distinction out there, a logic that allows for both the generous encouragement of fledgling creative ideas, and the welcome embrace of time-honored standards established for a reason by respective creative disciplines.




Stefani Rossi
Stefani Rossi

Author

Stefani Rossi studied painting and printmaking at the University of Puget Sound. In 2010 she received her MFA in painting from Colorado State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions. Stefani has worked with Ruminate Magazine as visual art editor since 2008. More of Stefani’s work can be viewed at www.stefanirossi.com



5 Responses

SAB
SAB

February 17, 2017

yes yes yes! That’s it. I know (for sure!) I’m in the image of the creator, and thus creative… but I cannot name myself an artist – as a vocation/profession/etc. But I definitely engage artistic aspects in my expressions and some of my processes.

And (streaming with your question), I am NOT a doctor… but I can be a vessel for healing in a number of ways.

I’m agreeing with you – and yet I struggle with the continuum. Language is so mutable (and thus why I love to play with it!).

I’m going to send this discussion to others and try to get their feedback. Thanks so much!

Stefani Rossi
Stefani Rossi

February 17, 2017

Thanks for beginning the conversation stream!
I think you perceive my question precisely: is creativity the same as Art/ being creative the same as being an artist?
It’s a nice thought to equate them. But it is a thought that is not supported by the reality I experience of the contemporary world.

The accountant may be creative, the doctor, the vet, the business CEO, etc. Are they, then, artists?

I concede: we are created in the image of the source of creativity. But because God is also the great healer, are we who bear his image all doctors?
(do you see the leap in logic I’m having a hard time swallowing?)

just adding more…would love for more people to jump in!

SAB
SAB

February 17, 2017

No responses yet?!!
I’ve been pondering this question all summer – and have not come to a conclusion (much like M. L’Engle in her Walking on Water; although, to be honest, not as beautifully). Thanks for provoking the question, Stefani.

Perhaps I’m more in the phase of: are not all people creative, and can not creativity live in a congenial space with art? I wonder if “art” is a genre that some inherently engage while the “rest of us” participate in our creativity.

Just a brief response, hoping others will join the conversation.

Rebekah
Rebekah

February 17, 2017

I’m ambivalent, too. The best distinction I can come up with at present is that, as we are all made in the image of the Creator, creativity is an inherent part of our nature, but we don’t all develop the potential that lies within us to the point that we become artists.

W. Michael Fightmaster
W. Michael Fightmaster

February 17, 2017

I offer several observations. First, consideration,contemplation,rumination, and filtering one’s results through critical thinking can assist in clarifying our findings. The ineluctable point is, the world we inhabit is not just ambiguous, it IS ambiguity. For support of this comment, I suggest opening any Aesthetics 101 textbook to discover the many divergent, but well thought through attempts to categorize, describe, and define art, beauty, standards, and provide more grist for the mill of rumination.

History is filled with names of individuals now revered as an artist but died without recognition by their culture as an artist. Is replication of life, precisely, art in any genre? Western culture predicated the value of an artistic work by that measure solely, for centuries. Is evocation of emotion a necessary quality of

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