The following is a bone previously picked.
For some reason, though, I find it still a little lodged near the trachea.
Belongs, for my money, in the list of words that includes "genius", "totally" and, without question, "awesome".
Words that get used by and/or attributed to people to the point that "ad nauseum" becomes gross understatement.
And my particular sticky wicket satellites around said use of said word when applied to those whose voices wander, or barrel, as the case may be, in my direction from ground zero of the country music industry, Nashville, Tennessee
A town I'm proud to call one of my homes in this life, by the way.
A totally awesome town, in fact.
I cut and pasted this definition of the word "artist" from Dictionary.com.
1. A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria
2. A person show practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor
3. A person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.
4. A person who works in one of the performing arts, as an actor, musician, or singer; a public performer, a mime artist, an artist of the dance.
5. A person whose work exhibits exceptional skill.
Here's the thing.
The country music industry seems perfectly comfortable indulging itself with a liberal and frequent assignation of the word to pretty much every Tom, Dick and Chesney that comes down the pike.
Or 16th Avenue, as the case may be.
Now, admittedly, any "debate" about what constitutes and/or qualifies as art is a slippery slope. One man's pork chop is another man's pork rinds, obviously.
But, in order to get this little conundrum concluded in my cranium, I decided to rely on a qualification process employing the dictionary definition provided above.
1. a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.
...well now, there's a description that can be bent, folded and/or mutilated to fit just about any singer of song that wanders into Pancake Pantry, especially the wide open spaces of "aesthetic criteria", so no help there.
2. a person who practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor.
...this one, by its specificity, seems to disqualify anyone who offers a cultural contribution with voice as opposed to hands (or feet, wasn't there some famous painter guy who held the brush between his toes?), but, "fine" arts gets a little tricky, not to mention snobby, not to mention implying a little less CMT and a lot more NPR, so, again, no assist...
3. a person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting…a commercial artist.
...again, the specifics, however specfically vague they might appear, seem to disregard anybody who plys their "art" with a microphone as opposed to a pen, pencil or Photoshop...
4. a person who works in one of the performin arts, as an actor, musician or singer; a public performer, a mime artist, an artist of the dance.
...now we're getting somewhere....."singer" finally made it into the criteria, although by its position in the list, you get the impression that it's regarded as neither important enough to be listed first, as is actor, nor worthy of being the big finish as is "artist of the dance"....
5. a person whose work exhibits exceptional skill.
...whoops, there it is.....the defining words that any reasonably good advocate could take before the tribunal and use to justify said use of "artist" when applied to various and sundry country singers as in the term" recording"....artist.
Not so fast, Fellini.
What about that word "exceptional"?
Does, for example, the ass focused anthem to women's, well, asses that is "Honky Tonk
Badonkadonk" qualify as exceptional?
If so, then, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, the world renowned recording artist, Trace Adkins.
Does the laughter generating laud to one man's 16 oz. reason for living that is "Red Solo Cup" meet the "exceptional" criteria?
If so, please make room for acclaimed recording artist, Toby Keith.
Don't get me wrong. The writer in me never lets a week go by without wishing I'd come up with either of those two and was delightedly seeing the BMI royalty amount showing up in my direct deposit.
At the end of it, the fair, if sad, truth is that "art" very much boils down to a much more simple definition.
That said, here's a personal criteria I find plausible and applicable.
Fifty years from now, what will be the more immediately recognizable?
Toby Keith's singing of "Red Solo Cup"?
Johnny Cash's singing of "Ring of Fire"?