Artist as a common person

Marco Buti, wholesale 80, metal engraving, 2021


Art alone does not "save" anyone, but perhaps it attracts many other types of knowledge, which could remain unknown

Artist, according to Paul Klee, occupies the position of stem, intermediate between roots and crown.[1] Modesty is uncommon, at least since the Renaissance, with the proud separation between crafts and art. Artist ceased to be an ordinary person. While craftsmanship was less accentuated, the artist took on other prosaic activities, such as teaching. If other common people, characters from the arts system – curator, critic, theorist, historian, cultural manager, collector, seller, auctioneer, sponsor, assistant – aroused the same interpretative effort applied to artistic creation, we would have a more complete picture of this small world .

One can judge with more objectivity the craftsmanship, in the concrete result of the intelligent actions on the matter. The possible evaluation is more direct, when the purpose is to realize an object. By having the purpose of actions with matter not the object, but the senses that it can emit, the ground becomes slippery, and only a more dubious judgment is possible. Approaching poetry, all technique and material becomes coarse.

It is a frequent mistake to conceive of “Art” based on personal experience. But art is so indefinable that, with some honesty, one can at most hope to be an artist, without resorting to the official seal. Establishing artificial distances serves to make art less public, more controllable, more dependent. A right is now offered as “salvation”, in an assistencialist way. The artist model in effect, with his own name highlighted, still serves the professional environment, and makes innovative collectives.


A representative contemporary expression is to consider a person as “good” or “evil”. Though contested in some quarters, binary thinking remains in full force. It doesn't help to understand that the same being capable of low actions can perform high level art. It is part of the mental flattening established, notably from the end of the 1970s. The complexity of any human being would not lend itself to the slogans. But we accept being converted only into consumers, taxpayers, users: points on the curve. Only artist creates. With some research, it is not so difficult to trace a pettiness, the blunder – looking away from the capitalized work, which would really interest, justifying the biographical and contextualization attempts.


Excessive self-esteem, aristocratic attitudes and blasé, vanity, contempt, arrogance, narcissism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, also found in the artistic environment, far from highlighting someone extraordinary from the mass, they only confirm the common human being.

We like to imagine artists as crazy, transgressive, serious, coherent, revolutionary, conservative, passionate, melancholic, opportunistic, sold out, intellectual, chaotic, logical, martyrs, cursed, idols, role models, restrained, inspired, rational, subtle, ethical, visionary , anguished, serene, narcissistic, modest, arrogant, generous, flattering, fearless, heroes, free beings. Except ordinary people, who could be all of these, in proportions, times and changeable dominance, successively or simultaneously. Unpredictable, complex.

Disappointment is possible when meeting real artists, having the work as an image of being. The artist/work correspondence is extremely rare. Depending on how it is conceived and practiced, art can be of an astonishingly low level.


What is usual is the need for rules, also for artists, both to be respected and transgressed, with the same objective of being present in the midst of the fine arts, in its changing versions, adapting to the interests of the present, reducing art to formulas renewable. Refusal, due to disagreement with established standards, is less practiced than the expected transgression.

Elevating an artist to “being a creator”, a fiction is created separating from ordinary people, who no longer have access to such a figure close to the powers that be. For the vast majority, who maintain a marginal relationship with art, contact tends to be driven by fame. That projects a public and interested image, away from living with ordinary people, in the subservient position of admirer, “fan”.

But fiction is only good for those who become stars; 99% have no notoriety, or local, regional notoriety, like those who are also dedicated to teaching art. There, the artist can sit at the bar and join us for a beer. Their generic condition is to spend, with the need for art, a percentage of earnings from another source of income, or to have a more modest life than current desires, contrary to the image of meaningless wealth associated with public images.

The artist's pedestal is more resilient than the sculpture's, but the general fate is oblivion.


The talent is there, but it's not what common sense tends to imagine – some kind of omnipotence, limitless ease, innate mastery. I prefer to think first of the inability or intolerance to do anything else. Second, risk choosing the thing that might be able to be done, perhaps giving some meaning to life, without making the utilitarian dominant. Then, the intelligent exploration of these limits. But this central option is extremely minority.

For the majority, maintaining marginal relations with art, they seem out of reach, or barely understandable; therefore admirable. How, for artists, fundamental knowledge of other professions can be the biggest handicap. Manipulable admiration lends a “heroic” aura to artists, beings capable of the impossible, albeit accomplished. But the astonishment should be for the ordinary degraded existence – offered, imposed, accepted, desired, sought, quantified.


Art is difficult to define, we don't know very well what it is. A strange activity, practiced by ordinary people, but who place at the center of their lives what should not be a priority, an occupation relegated to “leisure”, as “entertainment”, with the unavoidable demands for a dignified existence resolved. Conceiving art as knowledge, and a fundamental relationship with the world, that is unusual. These people are few in number, and tend to be seen as odd by those who, by choice or obligation, have more utilitarian priorities. It is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to explain that for artists, even though they share the same needs, the utilitarian is not the only essential nourishment, and the useful, but highly dubious art, maintains primacy. When recognition, bestowed by very few, enables artists to achieve impressive achievements and visibility, it feels like the possession of rare qualities allowing the unattainable.

Living and dead artist are equally distant. With such a being it is difficult to achieve closeness, one tends to assume, starting from the work, mystify and mythologize. He seems like someone who is absolutely creative, with unrestricted freedom, continuously on stage, without knowing the network in which he operates. Artist without fame, next to us, can only be seen as dissonance. It is not so easy to recognize when dominant models actually have greatness independent of the veneer, nor greatness in anonymity. Seeing what it really is, be it craft, industry, action, concept, sensory shock, spectacle, overwhelming impression, whisper.


I don't think there is something common that characterizes artists. I think that the option for art comes from an incapacity, aversion, repulsion for the most widespread activities. It could be an encounter with an unforeseen capacity. But considering this activity still as forming the human being, it is a way of placing oneself in the world, not outside it – some salvation. Those who spend their lives in a wreckage are left out, consuming time only utilitarianly, without being nourished by the knowledge generated by their actions.

Of course, the need for survival does not favor choices, and a fair number of artists want to stay out, entering certain circles at all costs. The dominant models of art circulate through power relations and their veneers, such as the alleged “education” – costumes, attitudes, desires, consumption, languages. But even those who don't have a choice can make and want proximity to unvarnished art, circulating outside the most official circuit, among unknowns.


Abyss, drama, salvation, grandiose words used to talk about lives that we only know a little by the work carried out (which really matters). Art alone does not “save” anyone – even less so in the short term, in the time of a pandemic – but perhaps it attracts many other types of knowledge, which could remain unknown, throughout parallel lives, which risk never meeting. The buoy needs a lot of other knowledge, built over time. Nothing is enough.[2]

*Marco Buti He is a professor at the Department of Plastic Arts at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.


[1] KLEE, Paul. on modern art. London, Faber and Faber Limited, 1948.

[2] The text reached this point thanks to an inquiry by Mariana Leme about proposals for salvation through art, circulating during the Covid 19 pandemic.

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