With what criteria does one have the authority to title himself or herself “artist”? The most common understanding of role of “artist” is one who displays functional excellence in a chosen field. The task has become recognizing and defining excellence for in doing so one can identify art. Once upon a time, when the word artist was bestowed upon an individual it identified their role in society and offered credibility to the results of their efforts.
Due to the liberal usage of the word, artist, to describe excellence, excellence itself became the yardstick by which one could identify artistry. Unfortunately the word excellence is incapable of lending the credibility that the word artist once lent to it.
This is partially due to the ambiguous definition of exactly what is excellent and it’s devaluation resulting from its corporate co-opting for the purposes of mass marketing and product promotion. The transition from using art to identify excellence to using excellence to identify art has degraded the once precious and noble connotations connected to the role of the artist and the appreciation of art.
A grotesque manifestation of this can be identified by reading the yellow insignia proudly emblazoned on the purple shirts of Subway Sandwich shop attendants declaring each to be a “Sandwich Artist”. Yes it’s true Subway Sandwiches are tasty, cheap and plentiful and they are produced by hand combining a “have it your way” latitude with the obedient percission of a militaristic march. A well conceived, produced and promoted product, a corporate contender on the battlefield of the marketplace where excellence definitely can be measured by monetary success, but is it art.
To equate excellence with fine art may have been a suitable practice but now popular culture is being trained to equate art with end result product. Marcel Duchamp opened our eyes to the beauty of the “ready made” and the grandeur of the common-place but his grand fuck you to the academy has come back to bite us in the ass. What started out as a roadmap for the likes of Jackson Pollock, enabling him to find value in paint debris, Donald Judd, recognized elegant clarity in the rhythms of geometry and Andy Warhol, came full circle to estheticize the entire process of degrading the stature of art in popular culture. If everything is art then a sandwich could be considered art and it would follow that it’s maker even a corporation could legitimately claim the title artist.
The ever-expanding numbers of Art institutions get a bad rap for spewing out yearly crops of professional art making strategists.