As a society, we exalt the artist. We recognize and praise the unique vision of the lone auteur, the inimitable achievement of the fashion designer, and the style of prose utilized by the revolutionary author. This trend has been with us since Brunelleschi designed Florence’s famous dome. We view the artist as the one and only person gifted enough to bring to life their vision.
But how – and from where – does the artist receive his vision? Brunelleschi was in competition against Ghiberti to receive the commission to create the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Both men were goldsmiths. Indeed, Ghiberti crafted the beautiful bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry. Michaelangelo called Ghiberti’s gates the "Gates of Paradise." It seems likely to me that these two great artists – and the other great minds and makers of Florence and beyond – were pushing one another to achieve more. The individual artist’s vision was honed, influenced, and made better in the company of other creatives.
Artists are influenced by the works and lives of other artists. I once listened to an interview with Ridley Scott. The visionary director recalled the first time he saw the original Star Wars. Scott had just finished his first film The Duellists, based off of Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Duel,” and had won the Best Debut Film award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. While watching Star Wars, Scott leaned over to his producing partner and said, “We’re doing the wrong thing. This guy [Star Wars director, George Lucas] is way ahead of us.” Scott’s next film was the revolutionary science-fiction, horror film Alien, which broke box office records, caused people to pass out in theaters, and made Ridley Scott a household name. Scott’s Alien is far and away a different film than Star Wars, but without George Lucas and his work, would Scott have turned his artistic vision to the stars?
Community is important for the artist. In his book “Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture,” artist Makoto Fujimura recalls “A Beer Toast at Sato Museum, Tokyo.” The Considering Peace exhibit was a coalition of 120 artists (American, British, and Japanese) who donated their works to raise money for UNESCO to aid children in Afghanistan. Fujimura relates the situation:
“The art world in Japan, just as it is in New York, is in desperate need of a genuine community. If museums could be a place where artists and the public can come together to work to benefit the world, then even with limited funding they would benefit us all.
“What inspired me most came from the mouths of the artists themselves.
“‘We do not have a forum to gather like this anymore. I find myself all alone in my studio. I realized that I needed a community like this more than I thought.’”
Creative community is a must for artists. I think of the great filmmakers that gathered together to form American Zoetrope in 1969, many of which went on to create award-winning and groundbreaking films, technologies, and processes and in turn influenced generations of up-and-coming filmmakers. I think of the friendship and camaraderie of the Inklings, how they read their works aloud to one another, how they shared bread and drink together, and how they discussed their love for literature and art over long-walks through Oxford and the surrounding countryside. I think of the words of the Preacher, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.” Great art comes from a great creative. A great artist comes from deep, meaningful community.
About A. Christopher Oxsen
I love God, my wife, and my three kiddos. And, I tell stories. Some are better than others.