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We Are All Artists

My favorite definition of art comes from Seth Godin. Here’s the post in its entirety:

I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.

Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.

Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.

You can be perfect or you can make art.

You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.

You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.

The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you.

(Side note: it doesn’t take much to say something profound. That post is a little over 100 words)

Here’s my take on “seeking out” these five elements:

  1. Human
  2. Generous
  3. Risk
  4. Change
  5. Connection

“Art is a human act…”

I’m glad Godin considers art a human act. It takes away the excuse that only geniuses can make art, or the only work worth looking at are ones that are perfect. In the end, human means that things will be messy and idiosyncratic. Everyone, even the most powerful people on earth, from presidents to priests, are deeply flawed. Pick up any good biography and the humanity of that person is what makes them that much more brilliant. Art becomes beautiful when we accept who we are and start from there.

“…a generous contribution…”

This is the business model I strive to have. You can take all the machinations of profit, loss, revenue, equity, growth and underneath it all, should be generosity. And I don’t mean generosity as a 501(c)(3) or a tax write-off. Nor as good branding because millennials are socially conscious. But generosity as a part of your DNA. That the deep reason to why you do what you do is to give more than you receive. My bet is that if you can do that consistently with your product, services, or company, then in the end you will succeed.

“…something that might not work…” aka. Risk

This is what vulnerability looks like. You can argue this whole definition is about vulnerability, but this idea opens you up to rejection and failure. But as Seth said once during an interview, so few people actually lean into the fear and take that risk. If we can discipline ourselves to show up and fight the Resistance, then we’ve already won.

“…intended to change the recipient for the better…”

In this commencement speech given at Columbia University, Ben Horowitz gives the advice that you shouldn’t follow your passions. Because following your passion is inherently self-centered. You’re only thinking about your abilities and how you can get others to recognize it. Instead, he tells the students to empathize and start by figuring out what kind of contribution they can make in the world. Our art should do the same.

“…often causing a connection to happen.”

I recently took a test to find out my Enneagram type. I am through and through, a type Two. The best version of a Two is some who is “deeply unselfish, humble, and altruistic: giving unconditional love to self and others. Feel it is a privilege to be in the lives of others.” It‘s all about connection. And that’s true in everything I’m doing; from these letters, to how I view my friends, and my work. Photography is just a way for me to connect with people.

As you reflect on these ideas, I hope you stop questioning whether you are an artist. We are all artists if we care about what we do, and have empathy for the people it’s meant for. This isn’t limited to those in “creative fields.” To Seth’s point, the hard part isn’t whether you want to make art, but committing to it.

How do these ideas land with you? Would love to hear if these thoughts change the way you view your art.