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.