What Is An Artist?

We had a lively discussion at home recently over Subway calling their counter people Sandwich Artists.

My son contends that they are artists. The best of them, he argued, assemble sandwiches in a way that expresses great skill and creativity — and the really good Sandwich Artists bring transcendent quality to their work. There are, of course, also some hacks.

I take the position that the Sandwich Artists might more accurately be described as sandwich technicians or sandwich engineers. After all, they are making the sandwich based on my set of specifications. I’m the one who decides that cucumbers and jalapenos would go well on my oven roasted chicken sub. It’s in Choosing these combinations of ingredients is the art, therefore I am the Sandwich Artist, not them.

If they were artists they’d decide what to do independently. You’d walk into Subway and instead of ordering,  just say, “Make me a sandwich!” The sandwich artist would then follow his muse and present me with something new and original, like in this funny piece from McSweeney’s.

So who is the artist? It’s well-known that Andy Warhol used assistants to create his art. These crews followed his instructions to churn out work that sells today for millions of dollars — and you’ll never see their name on it. It was his creative vision, not theirs. They were sandwich makers, not Sandwich Artists.

As always, thanks for visiting. And don’t spend too much time reading stuff like this at work, or you too could find yourself a Sandwich Artist.

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