Artist versus Musician

One night at supper my son asked me this question, “If you could be a great artist or a great musician, which would you want to be?”

For me the answer was immediate. “Oh, I’d want to be a great musician.”

My son probed deeper. “Why?”

Again, I didn’t have to think long about the answer. “Because musicians get the blessing of interacting with their audience. We perform for them and get feedback.  That feedback – in the form of applause, cheers, clapping hands, cell phones held up in the air, etc. – is why musicians do what they do.  We love to share our music with those who appreciate it and their response is our blessing.  We elevate them and they elevate us.  Artists don’t get that blessing.”

My son was satisfied with this answer but it got me thinking. “Why can’t artists have that immediate response to their forms of expression?”  Then it hit me.

Imagine a concert venue filled to capacity with an excited crowd. Then the lights go down and the audience goes wild with anticipation.  A lone spotlight hits the stage on a blank canvas.  More cheering.  Slowly, dramatically, emerging from the darkness into that spotlight steps the artist with his palette.  He’s dressed in tight black leather pants and a flowing white shirt that makes him look oddly like one of the Three Musketeers.  His long lion’s mane hairdo crowns his head and is a fitting expression of his ego.

With a flair he whips out a half-inch chisel tip brush. The crowd quiets down and the anticipation ramps up.  He brazenly swirls it through the magenta oil paint on his palette and, with a dramatic pause, starts to smear magenta oil paint all over the white canvas.  The crowd explodes…they know this piece and have always wanted to see the artist “perform” it live.

Can you just see the next day at the local high school? Let’s eavesdrop as a burned-out concert-hopper recounts the event the next day at school with his friends.

“Whoa, dudes, you missed the Joe Smith live performance last night. He did all of his famous portraits right there on stage, man, it was totally awesome!  At one point, he got out his classic 2-inch beveled horsehair brush – the same one he used for making anti-Vietnam protest posters in 1968 – and wailed a solo in lime green.  Then he ripped off a 20-minute cover of Mona Lisa!  Dude, it was surreal!  The light show was lame though.  The artist needed good natural light to see what he was doing, so there were no effects at all.  What really rocked though was the encore, dudes.  We thought he was going to do something from his cubist period, but instead he brought out a block of white marble and started chiseling away!  The place went wild!  After the show, I got the T-shirt with all of his neo-classical landscapes…check this out, dudes!”

Yes, my friends, there are very good reasons why it is better to be a musician than an artist.