An artist is a maker; he or she makes art, whether sonnets or sonatas. The only “lifestyle” an artist practices that distinguishes him from others is making art. You cannot identify artists, whether in Paris, Houston or Bellevue, Wa., by haircut, eyeglasses, clothing, vocabulary, politics, bank account or home address. Cosmetologists, painters of murals on vans, cooks, graffiti-vandals, “web designers,” body builders, orthodontists and tattoo-makers are not artists. An artist is more likely to look bourgeois than Bohemian, more like Wallace Stevens than Rob Zombie. An artist spends more time making art than talking about it or convincing you he is an artist.
A poster hanging in the hall near the art rooms in a public high school assures us: “Everyone’s an artist. Join us.” Accompanying the invitation is a photograph of a smiling young couple – she with dreadlocks, he with a shaved head – exposing improbably large teeth. G.K. Chesterton writes in Heretics (1905):
“The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, the very great artists are able to be ordinary men – men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art.”
The artistic temperament, as diagnosed by Chesterton, sounds like a bad case of constipation.