Kli Tahor: Artistic Obligations & Aseret HaDibrot

Spot at hashkafah forums asked the question:

Artists … do you get insulted if someone suggests an improvement to your work, be it in painting, graphics, music, etc.?

In my own case, that would depend upon the kavanah and accuracy of the criticism, as well as whether or not there was an established relationship of trust between myself and the one offering suggestions. Hishtavut does not require us to lay aside discernment.

Some people just want to tear me down. Some people might have worthy suggestions. I don’t know that I would necessarily be insulted by an unworthy suggestion, but I certainly wouldn’t consider it valid nor “accept” it as I would a worthy one.

Ultimately, however, my work needs to be true to reality as I see it, as opposed to a reality “I do not know” (i.e., the reality of someone else). In other words, I am responsible for the light given to me by Hashem. Importantly, this responsibility of knowledge is encompassed by one of the aseret hadibrot – specifically, not to worship a god one does not know. One is responsible for that which one knows, and not for that which one does not know.

One purpose of art is to touch and draw down the deep supraconscious humanity (in devekut with the Divine) within the artist. When an artist accomplishes doing this, s/he has become a kli tahor (pure vessel), and the art itself is able and acts to touch and draw out the deep supraconscious humanity of others. Eliciting a response within or from another, known or unknown by the artist, is evidence that this purpose has been accomplished to some degree.

 With respect to professional art, a professional commissioned artist (which I am not) has an obligation, depending on the nature of the contract, to try to portray the message of the client as opposed to strictly portraying his or her own vision. One is acting as an emissary of or as a partnered collaborator with the one contracting the work. Like Betzalel and Ohaliav. Or like Zebulon and Issachar. This kind of artistic work is a visionary partnership, not the solitary vision of the artist.

Taking this all together then, I think that there are different artistic obligations and expectations depending on the context and nature of both the criticism and the work. Necessarily, the role of the input of others varies according to those specific obligations and expectations.

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