A manifesto is “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views” of the person (or organization, or government) making it. It is a declaration, a serious statement of intent. First, some ground rules:

Art should not be about making stuff. Or about selling stuff. Or about being cool or popular.

Art can be/should be about testing the limits of your creative vision, and sharing it with others. And yes it is still about making stuff, selling stuff, and being cool.

We are all informed by culture. Our culture is all about selling stuff and being cool – about status, image and perception. It is also about competition, and about being “the best.” Sometimes we understand what “the best” is by whether or not it’s cool, and whether or not people are willing to pay a lot for it.  

When I started making art, it was about expressing myself. About making something I liked, and enjoying the process. Only after I began to be recognized – by my parents, teachers, and peers – did I begin to lose my original impulse to create. In recent years, I have begun to slowly win it back, and in the process, I have begun to challenge the assumptions that I have about what art is and why I make it.

“Art should not be about making stuff.” The stuff-making is secondary to the emotions, the intellect, and the physical embodiment of the process of interacting with the world in a special way. The “interaction with the world in a special way” is the art – the heightened awareness, the sense of flow and connection, a spiritual or religious sense of connection with something beyond the personal – that’s the art. The process of making this into an artifact, a drawing, a performance, a recording, is secondary.

“Art should not be about buying stuff.” The impulse to own something, to collect, or to be a patron, is sometimes driven by wanting to connect with the artist. Sometimes this impulse is connected by the need to demonstrate our own level of culture by association. Sometimes it’s driven by status-seeking or financial interest. But having something is not the same as appreciating it, and it is not always necessary to own something to enjoy it. Few people have the resources or the space to collect much in the way of the visual arts. We must enjoy it in other ways.

“Art should not be about being cool or popular.” It’s hard to resist the pull of celebrity, the status of money or fame. Who is not insecure? Coolness and popularity are a shortcut to what we really want – security. We want to feel secure of our status in the tribe. Consuming the “right” stuff – art, music, clothing, etc. has been one way to demonstrate that we are worthy of respect and admiration of others. And therefore, we must be OK. Sometimes this is because we want to be a part of the mainstream culture, other times, we want to be a part of the counterculture.  But being cool and being popular (or being a part of the even-cooler counterculture) sometimes have resulted in terrific art, sometimes kitsch.   

The reason I bring up these three assumptions is that this is what the culture tells us – that art is about making stuff, buying stuff, and about being cool – acquiring social capital. But these are secondary things that we have elevated to first principles. And this is harmful.

Art is about being in a special, receptive state of awareness. It is about having the experience and then sharing it with others. It may be about making something or performing – and it may be that others will buy it or appreciated it. Caring too much about making it, selling it, or being cool or popular distorts the field. Reconnecting with art means reconnecting with the world our inner world, and the world around us.