To answer the question posed in the 2017 yearbook, my first impulse was to wander in the waters of the literary theory, pointing out that the main difference between the »artist« and »non-artist« correspond to this very features that define them, i.e., their relationship to art. The »artist« is understood here as the producer of art, and the other as the absence of this benefit, a path that would certainly bring us to the temptation (or obligation) of discussing a further definition of art.
I’ll be less strict with myself. Even if I’ve unfortunately chosen the path of practical knowledge and personal experience (my life includes my time in Solitude, surrounded by artists) to answer the question.
The first thing to point out about an artist is the obsession with that he calls his »job.« If we are looking for a handy definition of the subject, the following could work: every human being sickly obsessed with making art is an artist. The rest of the mortals don’t live such an anguished life, I’m afraid.
Sometimes the artist is tormented more by her career than by expressing herself, one must admit. Sometimes his ego is considerable and often evokes comments like »you only care for your work« from the people around him – something that’s not entirely true, but looks like it is.
The »non-artists« in the field of arts (for example the critics and scholars) are more bearable people. They can live in society, so to speak. They can discuss certain issues for hours (issues that they just happen to be investigating at the moment or in the past) or simply about their context, or the global situation, reaching the highest point of this discursive quality in the figure of the journalist (who can also tire you out with many questions and political remarks).
Curiously, artists don’t talk too much about art in everyday life. Suddenly, they appear one day with something they call a finished work and put it before us with a paternal expression. And then everybody starts wondering how on earth someone so emaciated could put together something like that. The artist starts looking like a real mystery; someone who seems to have a secret life that’s been hiding from us all this time, and we don’t know at this point whom we should be addressing: the person who has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this piece we have in front us, or the person we actually have in front us and that we normally address with little worries about earthly life, like publications, agents, or prices … the ones we feel shouldn’t matter anymore.
Improbably, the same conflict exists within the artist herself. But that would be the matter of another question.
Yania Suárez Calleyro
Writer and journalist
La Habana, October, 2017