Artists and Elitism

For many artists, art is more than something they do, it is who they are, and it is a vocation they take seriously. And while everyone is creative in some way, it does take time and effort to develop artistic talent, and anyone who excels in their craft is to be commended. There are many who view art as something done by a special class of people, artists, and many artists who view themselves that way. That leaves art as something disconnected from normal life, which is unfortunate.

G.K. Chesterton had some harsh words about elitism in art:

They have goaded and jaded their artistic feelings too much to enjoy anything simply beautiful. They are aesthetes; and the definition of an aesthete is a man who is experienced enough to admire a good picture, but not inexperienced enough to see it. (Chesterton, 92)

Any man with a vital knowledge of the human psychology ought to have the most profound suspician of anybody who claims to be an artist, and talks a great deal about art. Art is a right and human thing, like walking or saying once’s prayers; but the moment it begins to be talked about very solemnly, a man may be fairly certain that the thing is come into a congestion. (Chesterton, 171)

Chesterton insisted that real artists are ordinary people who do art; they are not finely tuned instruments hovering on the brink of psychological catastrophe. Nor do artists need to live in trendy places, to possess certain eccentric furnishings, to wear a certain arty kind of clothing, or to eat at certain notorious cafes. Aesthetes, however, must be careful about such matters. (Peters, 65)

The issue here is the heart of the artist. It’s one thing be artsy, another to do it for the sake of status, and yet another when one gets caught up in their own pride. Of course, this isn’t limited to artists. Pride affects us all.

Chesterton, G.K. Lunacy and Letters. New York: Sheed and Ward. 1958.
Chesterton, G.K. Heretics, in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, vol. 1. San Francsco: Ignatius Press. 1986.
Peters, Thomas C. The Christian Imagination. San Francsco: Ignatius Press. 2000.