The artist Daniel Arsham posted a handwritten list of answers to this question on Instagram today: What is the job of the artist?

Arsham’s answers:

  • Reframe the present
  • Interdimensional narrative
  • Reveal the unseen
  • Interpret the era
  • Make joy and sadness
  • Time travel
  • Re-present the familiar as strange and unusual
  • Provoke cascades of emotive sentiment
  • Make things you want to see exist in the world

(From Jan. 6, 2021 Instagram post @danielarsham)

Arsham’s list is good stuff. And, of course, it’s not all-inclusive. There’s room for all of us to add, refine or breakdown what each of those bullet points might mean to us. 

And so some thoughts of the moment that were provoked for me by Arsham’s list:

My reasons for creative work are still developing. Or, I should say, my understanding of those reasons is. It’s an ongoing process, just like the work is. It’s a creative process, a spiritual process. 

But if I look back on two consistent aspects of all my work over the years — that is, beyond artwork to my years in the military, in journalism and in content marketing — then I’ve got to add leadership and communication into the mix.

I think communication is an inherent part of Arsham’s list, and for any artist expressing ideas through their work. The leadership piece of it might be less obvious.

The Job of the Artist | Humanitou Blog

To recognize, own and use one’s voice, to speak for something, speak against something, even speak at all with intention and meaning and purpose … that’s leadership.

To make that expression public, to accept the vulnerability of it and face it with courage, to see the world in a particular way and have the audacity to interpret it, to reframe it, to evoke thought, joy, anger, sadness, and creativity in others, and to inspire (re)action … that’s leadership.

To not just accept the surface of collective perception, to “time travel,” to see the unseen, and to dare to create what previously did not exist … 

That’s rising above the collectively perceived limits and showing by example what’s possible. 

And that is leadership.

So artists make this work. And when they make it public, they are sharing, participating, exchanging, learning. They are giving to the collective creative potential of humanity. They are choosing to enter the arena and risk being bloodied for their thoughts, ideas, skills and ways of seeing.

And they are furthering the narrative, the conversation, the reach of what can and will come. They are energy that fuels the future. They are energizing the upwardly spiraling trajectory of what’s possible, and they are are leading over the horizon.

The job of the artist, the creative thinker and, importantly, the creative doer, is not only to participate in the conversation of humanity in ways relatively few dare to engage, it’s to create the portal to the future and lead the way through.

And … what Arsham said.


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