I live my life trying to create Art and Beauty in all conditions and I also do my best to recognize and celebrate Art and Beauty in others — even if they do not recognize those gifts in themselves.  I know a sandwich maker can be an Artist.  It’s all about intention and the cut of the knife and the slice of the bread and, of course, choosing just the right condiments.  While an Artist can create a sandwich, a sandwich is never really a piece of Art because Art — in its essence — must have the capacity to endure.  Sandwiches, by their very nature, are crafted to be temporary and dissolved. Albert Einstein was an Artist as was Alexander the Great.

Imagine my surprise the other day when a new online friend sent me a gift — something he’d made with tools and machines he’d created in a faraway land — and I wrote him an email to thank him and celebrate his talent and my “You’re an Artist!” compliment was wholly rebuffed.  I’d unwittingly insulted The Mechanist by identifying his keen aesthetic.

I asked my new friend for his permission to share his email replies and he did not respond to that request, so I will summarize his share of the conversation and directly quote only what I wrote with clarifying redactions as necessary.

Here’s what I first said that started The Mechanist Maelstrom:

…Thanks for creating such a great piece of art!

He replied saying he doesn’t really create “ART.” He uses science and mechanics and lots of hard work.  Art was “unlikely” in any aspect.

I sensed he might be playing a little coy or humble, and people often do, so I doubled down on my Art compliment:

I would humbly argue that the Empire State Building is not just a building. It has a definite aesthetic. It is functional art and stands above the ordinary.

There are [certain gifts] — and then there are [certain gifts you make] — you set the aesthetic standard for art and functional design.

My doubling down on the Artist thing seemed to upset him as he replied by complimenting me on my “excellent writing” and then telling me he was “only an engineer” who “works out of his backyard” and all he cares about is “paying the bills and making his product.”  He then re-insisted he is nothing special. He is an “ordinary neighbor.”

I, of course, disagreed with him, but I didn’t want to continue the conversation into a philosophical fight of intention vs. purpose vs. expectation vs. Aesthetic Reality — so I changed the subject and thanked him again for his kindness — and ended by asking if he would mind if I quoted all of his replies to me for an article such as this one to open up the conversation on a wider scale beyond the directly personal:

I also would like your permission to quote the first couple of emails you replied to me when we talked about art and machines. I think what you say is fascinating and I know it enlarges a greater discussion of labor and mechanics and aesthetics.

He wasn’t having any of that!  He told me he is a mechanical engineer and craftsman only. He said the word “Art” is an annoyance to him. He “makes models of things” for artists that hire him.  He is paid for his labor, not his art and the “Artist” gets rich and famous off the work of the laborer.

He then rewound our conversation back to my comment on the Empire State Building by telling me it was “NOT DESIGNED BY AN ARTIST.” He apologized for the “high caps” and I haven’t heard back from him since.

Since this is my article, and since I get the last word, I will take on his point about the Empire State Building. It doesn’t matter if the designer or architect chose the Artist label or not — what was created in the end was Beautiful and a Work of Art that just happened to be a building! There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be an Artist and failing; just as there is nothing wrong with not wanting to be an Artist but creating Beautiful things anyway.

The Empire State Building is quite a Beautiful and magnificent sight to be held in any generation and, I argue, my backyard neighbor friend in a faraway land is a creator of Art even though he doesn’t consider himself an Artist.  My friend is quite famous in a specific niche of the music world, and I promise you those of us who use his finely tooled products absolutely consider him a GRAND ARTIST OF THE HIGHEST REGARD — and we’re not apologizing for the high caps.

37 Comments

  1. I suspect the term ‘artist’ renders images in his mind he finds less than desireable. The term does have it’s own connotations in some circles. But that begs the question of what does he see in that word?

          1. My last reply to you posted right after you posted your reply to yourself — so know that context.

            I agree with what you said in quotations, and I would argue that his labor is Art — whether he likes it or not — because what is created is beyond the ordinary mind and regular aesthetic.

            One part of our discussion I didn’t fully include, because I didn’t think it was precisely on point, is how other, bigger, companies try to imitate the work he does with his tools to put him out of business — but they can’t figure out how to get the same Beautiful end product — and so he wins the niche by, I argue, being a better Artist than the big companies because it is his personal touch and innovation and vision that gives him a redeemable aesthetic edge in the marketplace that cannot be imitated or replicated elsewhere.

          2. It’s interesting that large companies are interested in the work of one individual. It speaks volumes to what he’s able to accomplish.

          3. Right! Big companies don’t have the passion of the individual Artist/Entrepreneur — and so all they can do is imitate and not really create something great and Beautiful and Everlasting. If my friend continues forward, he’ll always own his musical niche because nobody else can beat his design or intellectual property for the creation of his work.

        1. Your response is curious because my friend was not shy about his adversity to the word “Artist” because he sees himself as a machine guy. He didn’t talk about masculinity or callouses or sexuality in even a suggestive tone. He isn’t American, so it it would be pretty obvious, I think, if he were somehow sexually insulted by the term. My sense of what he said is that he sees Artists as intellectual extremist money-makers while the “ordinary” people do all the technical work that enables the Artist to actually make a living. I certainly disagree with him on all those counts.

  2. On that point, I would concur with you. If not for the creativity of the artist, and willingness of others to make it come to life, we wouldn’t have an Empire State Building. Each has it’s benefits.

    1. I don’t think an Artist would be insulted if someone suggested they were mechanical, because craft is always essential to creation of the Art. It’s unfortunate that some “Tool People” refuse to accept the notion that they, too, can create Beautiful things that enhance the world beyond the original intention of the ordinary device.

      1. I’m personally acquainted with a machinist or a “Tool Person”. I’ll have to try the artist angle on him, and see what his response is. I didn’t know there was a disctinction between the two until today. 🙂

        1. Be sure to let us know what happens with your machinist, Lillian! Most “Tool People” I know ultimately come to understand and appreciate the Artist aspect of their work when I make my case. SMILE! Not all Tool People are Artists, though, just like not all Artists are True Mechanists.

          1. The vote is in: He considers himself as much an artist as Picasso; and his has form AND function. He does not consider being called an artist anything but a compliment. 🙂

          2. vote update: I apparently misspoke earlier concerning my machinist. He DOES take offense at being called an artist. He considers himself a craftsman. No more, no less.
            Which I found interesting. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be so opinionated on terminology.

    1. I certainly believe motorcycles can be High Art — there is almost always an effort to create something Beautiful while building one, even if that particular word isn’t used in the theory of description. Bridges are certainly Artful when you think of iconic New York City — the entire skyline is dedicated to those arcs and cables, and the guys who put the rivets in the steel to build those bridges were certainly Artisans of the highest sort.

      You can create something with function, or function with design, or function wedded to design that becomes Art. The aesthetic distinctions and effort employed are important to discuss and discern.

      1. Gordon put in words what I was thinking. Form and no function is a very good description of what I had in my mind. Perhaps labeling his efforts as ‘art’ renders his LABORS useless in his mind.

  3. Well, Lillian, your friend is making a distinction without a difference.

    From the American English Thesaurus:

    craftsman, craftswoman
    noun
    the handiwork of East Coast craftsmen: artisan, artist, skilled worker; expert, master; archaic artificer.