“And it is absolutely inevitable that when a tradition has been evolved, whatever the tradition is, the people, in general, will suppose it to have existed from before the beginning of time and will be most unwilling and indeed unable to conceive of any changes in it. They do not know how they will live without those traditions that have given them their identity.”
From an essay by James Baldwin titled THE CREATIVE PROCESS. A dear friend sent it my way the other day, and it has stuck with my since. It stuck with me in my dreams all night, and this morning too upon my awakening. There's a gem in every sentence really, but it is the bit quoted above that embodies the key to it all. Or perhaps more accurately... the lock. The act of unlocking it is what really represents the key to the creative process, at least for me. It is artists who help herald a turn in the social tide, who suggest a way of being and doing that is other. I should say that when I say artists, I don't mean it in the crass definition often accepted by today's standards. There are artists who are visualists, and those who are musical. There are lyrical artists, as are there literary. There are those who work with fabric and the human body, and those who construct habitats for human dwelling, and those who explore the sciences of the natural world and posit various uses for them. There are artists in all known field and endeavor and there are many who operate in these areas who are not artists at all but are of no lesser importance.
It is artists though who push the envelope, and are thus often reviled, feared, and ridiculed by society at large. Until—as is often the case—long after they're dead when society finally catches up with their ideas and propositions. Of course, there are artists who achieve mass acclaim within their lifetimes. Anyone can likely name a handful alive today who might fit the bill without thinking twice. I would like to posit something somewhat controversial though, and that is if indeed an artist has reached a degree of widespread appeal after having gone through the unpleasant business of social jeering at the onset of their practice, then one might say that that artist is surely lucky to have lived to witness the kind of seismic shift their art had always hoped to affect. However, if what they continue to do thereafter is being met with social glee, then chances are they have ceased to push the envelope beyond that initial push and are probably likely doing much of the same work they had done prior. No longer producing work that might suggest an alternative to established tradition, it is at this point that their work is no longer art and they no longer artists. There might be a great degree of craft involved, a great degree of skill involved, but craft, skill, and art are not one and the same. To be an artist is to be revolutionary.