Wednesday evening I participated in a lovely (if under-attended) event at a local listening room, Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse. The venue’s been in existence nearly half a century and hosts many a folk, blues, and folk-rock band/singer-songwriter, as well as the occasional puppet show, jam, open mike, children’s event, and poetry reading. Quite a storied place. Dave Fry, one of the co-founders, offers a monthly “Dave’s Night Out” during which he invites songsters, singers, lyricists, musicians, and poets to take the small stage and present their work as well as discuss their working process–with Dave himself and with the audience. It’s a wonderful opportunity to exchange creative and artistic ideas in public. The poets were me, Danielle Notaro, and Cleveland Wall. Dave’s take on the evening is here.
On the way home, my beloved and I had a discussion about artistry and “being an artist.” As he is from an artisan/craftsman background, he does not think of himself as an artist. The term seems a bit “elevated” to him. And while he is a creative problem solver–crucial to being an artist–I see why he does not consider himself an artist.
Some of that thinking is simply semantic, however, a perception based on someone else’s definition of an artist. Beloved asked me, “Do dancers or musicians consider themselves artists? Do you consider yourself an artist?” Good question, and the answer’s probably individual (i.e., it depends).
I mean–do I consider myself a poet? A writer? Let alone an artist. I immediately thought of a Substack post by my friend, journalist (journalists are writers!) Peter Moore, in which he publishes an excerpt from his post-college diary. Brave man.
“On the ferry from France to Folkestone I floated on a rising tide of words words words: “I must enter into the intense feeling I had while riding the Tube this morning,” I wrote, “that I honestly feel like a writer, that it was just a matter of time and effort before I am recognized as one. I hope and trust that this is prophetic.”https://petermoore.substack.com/p/r2e-excerpt-46-the-rising-tide-of
Yeah, I remember feeling those particular 22-year-old feels and the questioning that accompanies them. I am certain that similar enquiries appear in my old journals, though I may have been more cynical and less trusting than Peter was. He closes this post by saying: “Meanwhile, all those blank pages were screaming at me. Fill them with what, aside from intense living?
“Pretensions to artistry!”
Which is not to say that poets and writers and dancers and songwriters are not artists. It’s just that some of these folks think of themselves as artists, and others think of themselves as artisans, or craftspeople, or creative innovators, or…name it what you will. Poetry is a form of creative expression, and if you (dear reader) categorize that as art, then it is. If my poet colleagues think of themselves as artists, I respect that and will not argue. Perspectives, right? Not the same as pretensions, although I will admit that in my opinion, there are some people who write poems, and other things, a bit pretentiously. I have been guilty of the same, especially when I was young and getting the practice underway. Pretentiousness may even be a kind of motivation. We learn humility as we practice our missteps.
Contemporary Western society casts a great deal of gravitas and status on the word “artist.” So to answer my spouse, I replied that well…I do consider myself a writer and a poet, but I seldom think of myself as an artist. However, if you think poets are artists, I am an artist. Because I do indeed think of myself as a poet. I cannot get away from that urgent need to observe, imagine, interpret, restate, turn into metaphor, reflect, create into form, and otherwise do the making (Poiesis) of word play.