Oct
28

Who Gets to be an Artist or A Designer?

Recently re-reading Lisa Canning’s wonderful piece “Innovating through Artistry” I am reminded of a surprising challenge we face in promoting the value of art and artists. We work hard to demonstrate our value in a world that is hard skilled, bottom line, and ROI driven. We take the challenge to cross the border into the land of business, policy, and technology. And, yet, I wonder how hard we make it for ourselves in the ways we patrol our own borders and how easily we welcome others into our midst as fellow artists and designers.
One of the possibilities that inspires me most is teaching as many people as possible (and especially our kids) to be artistically and creatively adept, able to learn the skills and mindsets that characterize the “creative class.” Following the inspiration of local artists to democratize the arts and designers who promote the spread of “design thinking,” I have created curriculum and programs that teach the processes of art and design to “non” artists and designers, to give them a very powerful platform from which to change the world.
In the process I almost inevitably come against the question of who gets to be an artist or a designer. When I first started talking about teaching design to community members as a way to engage community challenges, some of the biggest resistance came not from business or community leaders but from some professional and academic artists and designers who I approached as potential partners. They expressed concern that I was trivializing or dumbing down their art and discipline by implying that anyone can be an artist or designer. Or, that if we share the knowledge too easily, it will be taken from us and that we will no longer be needed. Or, that one only becomes a “real” artist or designer after years of training and practice.
I struggle with this question, because there is an important distinction between someone with years of formal training and professional experience and someone who is an amateur. And, yet, we are all artists and designers by virtue of being human, and the more we cultivate and spread that capability and sense for the world, the better off we are.
So, who gets to be an artist or a designer?

  • I think we all do Tommy.. we talked about this on my recent trip to Austin. My only belief is that no matter what the subject matter is that “we” ( society at large) can learn from embracing, to further our interests, well being, growth and development– from artistry to technology– we need to learn from those who are gifted and skilled in these disciplines to capture in our hearts what can be learned. And in the case of the arts, it is artists who need to be at the spearhead of bringing change to communities that can benefit from what our discipline has taught us to create. It is time for the artist to lead and here is our chance….

    I am excited to see what we can accomplish together Tommy!

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