In this morning’s article, I tried to explain my way of answering a question that may not be objectively answerable. I intend at least one more article along this path as I attempt to apply my answer to various kinds of art or not-art. That will come later, but considering the question brought to mind a discussion I had long ago with someone. The long and short of it is that (a) I was a jerk and (b) I was wrong. Completely wrong.
It’s funny how things stick with you. A single conversation held roughly three decades ago remains a focal point in my thoughts (albeit not a huge one). I remember where I was sitting; I remember where he was sitting. That’s actually saying something, as my memory for past events is infamously awful. Maybe it was the weight of the error never fully acknowledged that gives it such sticking power. If so, perhaps this semi-public confession will redress matters.
My culpa was to accuse a friend, whose life and work was art, of not being an artist.
I’m not sure he’s ever forgiven me (and you can hardly blame him).
Actually, he was the husband of one of my very few very best friends ever (and that’s a very small number of people: exactly four). We’ll call him Calek for reasons that make sense to me (and he and she), but which must remain opaque to you.
Calek studied art in school and ultimately started his own business as a commercial artist. That his business is still alive these decades later says a great deal about his skill and dedication. And let me be clear: from day one I had very high regard for the quality of his work. My sin was not the claim that he was a bad artist, but that “commercial art” was not art at all.
I repent. What can I say; I was a young jerk full of himself and his opinions. Now I’m an old jerk still full of himself and his opinions, but life has knocked me upside my head enough times for me to recognize the full value of those opinions. Which is damned little.
As the saying goes, “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has them, and they all stink.” (Granted, some stink a whole more than others.) And rather like farts, others seem pretty foul, whereas ours can be almost friendly, if not exactly pleasant.
And sometimes you have to acknowledge that you just emitted a real stinker.
My thesis at the time was that (a) commercial art wasn’t really art and (b) a “real” artist would have his own work hanging about.
My own work as a programmer puts the lie to both of those. First, the fact that I write bespoken software often constricted by the demands of the client doesn’t at all detract from the experience and craft I apply to that work. To say commercial art isn’t “real” art is as stupid as saying commercial software isn’t “real” software.
Second, I have experienced how writing software for a living uses up the energy you might otherwise spend on personal projects. It breaks my heart, but when I spend more hours than I’ll admit per day working on work software, it’s damned hard to come home and do more of the same in the name of following my muse.
And make no mistake, I am a “real” programmer exactly as Calek is a “real” artist. In our younger, less professional days, we created from our hearts. I’ve known artists who were not engaged professionally, and they created reflexively. As I wrote in the article, artists need to create. But when your professional work uses up that need, of course personal work declines.
So, bottom line, I was wrong in every regard.
Calek, please accept this very belated apology.