I’ll be honest that I’ve never really considered myself an artist. It felt too powerful of a title to give myself — like I hadn’t earned it yet. I wasn’t creative enough or inventive enough or something. I didn’t use the right medium like painting or sculpting. Putting a few words together to write an article, a book, or a poem wasn’t really art, was it?
With the age-old question of “what exactly is art” ever-brewing in the back of my mind, I’ve watched the sharp decline of art in our society — dating back to the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of factories, commodification replaced craftsmanship. What was once an arduous, handcrafted project could now be done in minutes by hundreds — or thousands — of machines.
And, unsurprisingly, the perceived value of each individual piece plunged. Instead of the average person being able to afford a few high-quality, handcrafted shirts, we can all stuff our closets with bargain basement discounts.
A good working definition of art could be “the elevation of the profane, everyday materials to the sacred through focused intention and craftsmanship.” So what are we left with if we only have the raw materials? Like a body without a soul, we have a really nice container, but no life inside of it.
And this isn’t specific to manufacturing. We’ve experienced commodification in nearly every area of our lives. Reducing craftsmanship to its materials, reducing herbs to its chemical constituents in pharmaceuticals, reducing the human body to its anatomy, reducing architecture to cookie cutter homes.
Because ‘commodification’ is another way to say ‘objectification.’ Literally turning something into an object. Stripping it of its life force. Reducing it from a living breathing entity to just the shell of one.
So what’s the solution? In a culture where objectification is pervasive and reductionism is the norm, this trend affects every area of our lives. A job is just a way to make money. Sex is just a way to get off. We’re more globally interconnected but feeling less connected ourselves.
If commodification is the stripping of life force from something — separating the container from the essence — then wouldn’t the answer be putting it back together? Creating something that leverages the raw materials only as a way to transport somewhere deeper, somewhere more sacred?
Artists are modern sorcerers — giving life to inanimate objects. Making paintings speak and words dance and food tell fascinating stories. Some of our most important national discussions have been spawned by great pieces of literature or film. We’ve seen neighborhoods shift completely due to the presence of one new culinary artist.
If commodification is taking life away from this world, then art is breathing life back into it. And, if we believe in our working definition of art here, then it’s a term that applies to a hell of a lot more than just painters and sculptors and even writers. It’s anybody who is elevating the everyday into something more, something sacred. It’s understanding that the raw materials are just a portal to something more.
Only looking at the container is materialism; seeing through the container to the essence is art.
Art gives life where it wasn’t before. It elevates everyday materials into sacredness. It reminds us that Divinity is all around us — that there’s life force everywhere — and that we are all interconnected.
It’s a lot harder to hate someone when you know their life story, their insecurities, their vulnerabilities It’s a lot harder to say something cruel when you remember that even behind the anonymity of a computer you’re talking about a real person. It’s a lot harder to rape or murder someone when you see them as just as fully fleshed out human as you are.
Art gives life to the world. So, tell me now, are you an artist?
It just might be how you’ll change the world.