Art Artist History Communicator Culture

What is the role of the artist? Being an artist, I am unsure. In contemporary America it is an ambiguous role. Coming from a young puritanical culture, American society has had a strange relationship with art. Unlike the rest of the world, I feel we do not see art as a daily part of our lives. We go to it, in galleries and museums, rather then surrounding ourselves by it. Perhaps the closest we come to surrounding ourselves with art is the constant barrage of advertising we are all subjected too on a daily basis. Though I am not sure what that says about the artist’s role.

How society views art obviously affects how it views the artist and thus the artist’s role. A professor of mine illustrated this point once with a brief observation. He said that in America when he tells someone he is an artist they will ask how he is doing financially. In Europe though he is asked what type of work he is making. Clearly as with all things American, money is lowest common denominator. In that way I could say that Americans view the artist as either a freeloader or millionaire, with no middle ground to be had. Though that really doesn’t speak to the role of the artist, only the public perception.

For centuries the role of the artist was simple: to convey visually, aspects of faith and spirituality. Briefly in Rome art ventured into more secular topics, but then went back into the service of religion with the rise of the Church. For the most part, art was about what happens when you die. Roughly around the time of the 16th century art started to become secular again. Topics of civic pride, portraiture and nature becoming more important. As we get to the 19th and 20th century the role changes further into that of critic, observer and commentator.

Today, I think the role of the artist is whatever the artist wants it to be. At the core though, the artist is essentially a communicator. An artist is simply some one trying to communicate an idea, perspective, observation, message or what have you, to the populace. Perhaps they are a Thomas Nast, using art and illustration to point out social wrongs. Perhaps like Warhol an artist wants to hold a mirror to pop culture. Maybe like Michaelangelo they simply want to convey the beauty of the human form. The message or topic is the choice of the artist, but in the end the artist want to say something.

It is a simple role, often obscured by pomposity, shock value, poor quality and ambiguity. However, communicator is the role of the artist. It doesn’t matter if he or she is a sculptor working on an abstract pieces, an animator working for Pixar, an illustrator drawing for Marvel, or a graphic designer working for a Madison Ave advertising firm. At the end of the day the artist is trying to communicate. The role of the artist is that of communicator.