Artist vs Artisan
There is a long history of distinction between an Artist and a Craftsman or Artisan. The former was reserved as a somewhat elitist view categorizing the “Fine Arts” as separate from the “Folk Arts“. This was the difference between painting, art music, ballet, etc….. vs pottery, weaving, basket making, and folk music, etc …. The former being high art the latter being functional utilitarian art. Has time marched on it has become a very mixed up and varied array of skills, styles, and disciplines.
The difference mainly revolves around the idea of utility. Folk traditions and practitioners are seen as craftsman or artisans. The lines are blurred and most folks agree that people that practice non “Fine Art” disciplines are every much an Artist (with a capital A) as anyone else.
So we as songwriters and composers of contemporary music (includes all popular genres – ambient, folk. rock. funk. hip-hop, electronica, EDM, etc … ) fall somewhat smack in the middle of this continuum. The genre has many sub-genres and the new fad which is the micro-niche (more on that later). But still separate from the classical Art Song.
The way I find this concept useful is that all of us as songwriters are always wearing two hats. The Artist hat. And the Artisan hat. Our inspiration and those first little germs of ideas that fascinate us enough to keep working on them until they bloom into full songs come from our Artist mind. We continually switch back and forth between the vision and idea of the song and the mechanics of turning it from idea to reality.
There is a brilliant quote by the 20th century composer John Cage in reference to if he had ever been psychoanalyzed — “No. While I’m confident they would exorcise my demons, I’m afraid they might offend my angels.” I’ve always loved that quote.
The ability to switch back and forth between imagination/creativity and working the mechanics out in the songwriting/composing process is very important to being successful. If you get stuck in either mindset everything gets bogged down. I have talked in previous articles about the need to internalize technique so that it disappears and you are just “making music”.
An example of these two mind sets is a dialog that goes through every songwriters head. It goes something like this:
Artist Mind: “I really like that chord right before the chorus.”
Artisan Mind: “The end of the verse sets up the expectation that we are going to a minor six chord. But instead we go to a minor three chord.”
So what I propose is that we all embrace both ways of thinking and learn to toggle between them with ease.
Hope this little idea is useful and as always, Let’s go out there and make some music!!!
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