On “Artiste” & “Master Artist”

Drawing I made of The Great Artiste nose art.
Drawing of The Great Artiste nose art. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll start with “artiste“, because its senseless use is far more tangible to me, while I entertain that there may be some sort of rationale for the employment of the term “master artist” that I have not yet encountered.

Let’s start at the beginning. Trinis have this thing where anybody who is a performer of any kind may be referred to as an “artiste”, with an “e”. Now I find this a little schizophrenic and peculiar, not to mention senseless.

I thought in this postcolonial era we would be less likely to use French or Euro phrases to make us sound, I don’t know, more important or something. On the strength of that, I’m sure somebody can or will argue that we are not imitating the use of the French “artiste” (which actually specifically denotes singers or dancers, particularly the cabaret variety, as in “Cafe Des Artistes” in Paris). We are perhaps reclaiming, reinventing, or (a la Jose Munoz) disidentifying with our European oppressors by using the word as we wish.

And God bless you if you spend that much time trying to make that argument fly. Why not just use the English word “artist”, which is a term that can refer both to visual and performing artists in every sphere?

So on to my second favourite – “master artist”, which as far as I can tell is reserved for visual artists (though the term visual artist in itself can get a little problemtic… if I dance, that not visual? But that’s another treatise…)

And here I will actually defer to people who may well know lots more than me as to why this phrase is used. What is the rationale?? (That is not a rhetorical question)

It seems to me that anybody – presenter, exhibitor, PR person, marketer, journalist, whatever – can just use the label to apply to themselves or to their subjects whenever and wherever they please. Now I have no problem calling a man like Leroi Clarke a master of his artform – would anybody? But given his stature, his career, his contribution, and his work, do we really need to be that redundant and that sycophantic as to call him a “master artist” at every opportunity? We open a different can of worms if artists actually refer to themselves as “master artists”… Oie.

I guess my general pet peeve is the Trini impulse, as we try to build up our society, our talents, leaders and population – to slap sort of pompous and meaningless titles onto people or professionals that really denote nothing. If anything, the widespread misuse of these labels actually perpetuates a fraud and can be more destructive, as people without real qualifcations (and I don’t mean on paper – I just mean in terms of ability) can bandy about terms to make themselves sound important, and people with real track records are reduced to almost caricatures by the overuse of said labels.

But I does be a chile who does be peeved by these details which are in and of themselves unimportant, but to me indicative of a larger societal vibration. So let dis peeved “artiste” go and do de people wuk, oui!

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