A World like That [More on Citizen-Artists]

Earlier this week, I wrote about my approach to my work as that of “citizen-artist.” I meant is as a descriptor for someone (myself) who isn’t formally trained but also as a philosophy. In a culture where the art world is often cloistered, patriarchal, white supremacist, and comprised of other harmful hierarchies, different people often mean different things when we say the world “artist.” I wanted a term to clarify how and from what space I make art.

I am not formally trained. But I am also a woman-ish creature, Latino, and queer. These are all things that would keep me out of The Art World and I am A-ok with that. I like “citizen-artist” as a term because it places my personhood first but keeps my personhood hitched to my relationship with art.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner excitedly shared with me that NASA has launched a program that invites normal, everyday people to participate in scientific research through a phone app that measures the height of trees in your particular bioregion.

Download app. Tap a button. Be a citizen scientist.

I love the concept that anyone can participate. We don’t need to be astrophysicists or biologists or mathematicians. We can simply be people who go for walks in the woods and take some pictures of trees and boom—we have done some science. (Let me have this.) And we have increased our own awareness of the scientific process—and of how much “science” exists in our daily lives.

I want the same for art. I want people to go for walks and fall in love with what they see and ask themselves why. Why does this scene pull on my heart? Why am I drawn to this adorable little house with the bay windows? Why do I love this tree stump rimmed with new shoots? I want normal, everyday people to feel the permission to walk through the world with an artist’s eye.

How could an artist’s perspective shift the way we see the world? What beauty do we see, or what sadness? And what meaning do we make from what we see?

Maybe you don’t have a daily art-making practice. Maybe you weren’t formally trained as a painter or writer or sculptor. Maybe you wouldn’t call yourself an artist. But you can still move through the world with an artist’s sensitivity.

I think an artist’s perspective breeds compassion and tenderness and attention—all things the world needs. All things the world needs from you. As pioneering psychologist William James wrote, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” What if you agreed to attend to an artist’s life, whether you would call yourself an artist or not?

What if?

Regardless of how much art you make right now or how many poems you write each week. Regardless of what your educational background is or your current job. What if you attended to—gave your attention to—a world that feeds your artistic needs?

What if you looked at the world as if it were always on the brink of becoming art? What might you, Citizen Artist, do with a world like that?

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Amber Edmondson