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Is Everyone an Artist?

I had a fun argument the other night with Jay Cousins, from Open Design City. He innocently said, "Everyone is an artist," and I felt compelled to contradict. (Full disclosure: I was a little bit drunk.)

Cultures define for themselves what kinds of stuff they want to call art. Individuals in the culture do the same for themselves. The definitions shift. I think what Jay was really getting at is that we should be more fluid in our perception of art, more accommodating to new ideas of what art is, and more nurturing of creativity in general. This is the mission of the ODC and they do great work.

Definitions of what is art should be elastic--or better yet, abandoned--but the idea that art can come from anywhere does not mean that every person has a dormant artist inside just waiting to blossom.

And thank heavens not.

When people say that everyone is an artist, it's usually a form of anthropological narcissism. Everyone want to be the norm. Humans have been fixated on the idea of human nature at least since culture has existed. Usually, the people who are out to define what it is are doing their damndest to prove that human nature is what they feel is natural themselves. Especially the evolutionary anthropologists.

The human condition is a paradox. On the one hand, humans need connections to other humans. We spend our lives trying to communicate with and understand each other deeply. On the other hand, we can never truly know the mind of anyone else. We can never be really sure that the person in front of us even understands the words we are using in the way we mean them. Do they see the same colors? Do they smell the same smells? Do the smells smell the same?

Our need for connection leads us to want to believe that we are somehow all the same. That there is a human nature common to us all. That there are traits you can find in everyman. I'm starting to think that this is probably not true. Other people are more different from us than we think.


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