I’m about to order new business cards and I’m curious.
Do you become an artist the moment you believe yourself to be one?
Is it a title offered to you after you have completed a degree or other institutional process that includes fancy paperwork and back pats?
Must every project you create stem from a deep internal struggle, or can your work be simple and straightforward?
Do you have to be profitable?!?
I’ve likely heard every description of what art is or what an artist is. Not because I’m a pretentious poop, just because it comes up in conversation. You read about it online. Quotes on Instagram. At galleries when you see canvases of a solid color while some of us toil and bleed yet struggle to make a dime on our ‘art’.
That is not the discussion I came to have today. Maybe you cannot have the conversation I hoped for without setting the boundaries. Is art supposed to have boundaries or only the conversations about it?
The topic at hand is not going to go down without a fight. I simply want my one question answered.
When can I call myself an artist?
Putting pieces of work into the world has only sometimes lead to the warm fuzzies I imagine all artists have. Those fuzzies of inner knowledge that know their work asks deep, meaningful questions of the world.
So when a person asks the innocent question, “Are you the artist?” my gut response tends to passively dodge the bullet by responding, “Well, I did make that.”
Let’s delve deeper into the mindset that informs this thought process. I entrusted my emotional state to an exercise nearly four years ago and I am curious to see how it has aged. I found it on a piece of brown cardboard sandwiched in a drawer full of old notebooks whilst attempting to become a minimalist…so you know it’s going to be good.
This is the stuff of artists, right?
What is Art to me?
- Art is something you want to look at again & again
- Art can influence a mood, or set a tone.
- Art is inspired & inspires.
- Art can carry a message.
- Art can get you lost but bring you back.
- Art is an image, a reflection of something you’ve seen or done, or felt.
- Art can be discovered, found, or intentionally created.
What is an Artist to me?
- Someone who ponders great thoughts.
- Someone who sees things in the world uniquely.
- Someone who shares these thoughts and visions.
- Someone who can find compensation for their efforts.
- Someone who is curious, and motivated to learn more.
- Someone who can conceptualize, and craft from there.
- Someone whose work can make you feel feelings.
Oh my, younger me set the bar pretty high?
I don’t want to apply these statements to any and all who would call themselves artists. It feels too high-brow, too institutional, too conservatorial.
Those points matter, but I aim to feel confident in a self-defining thought process that I could use to stroll into rooms and declare to all who would listen, “Yes. I am in fact, an artist.” Do I have to tick all of those boxes every time to declare artistry?
Merriam-Webster puts some water on my mental fire here:
Skill acquired by experience, study, or observation. A branch of learning. An occupation requiring knowledge or skill. The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.
This soothes the nerves. With this definition in hand, I can safely land somewhere between the esteemed artists of all humanity, and those who have never given this a second thought.
I still feel there must be more. An artist cannot simply, willy-nilly, declare this thing or that thing a skilled piece of art. Certainly there must be some level of commitment to the process? Growth or development in one’s skills set?
If I look at my declaration of intent from this same time period, we might learn something.
Art Goals, August 2018
Short Term (August)
Research artist websites. Pick a theme for ianjhanson.com
Work on/finish one non-photography project.
Mid Term (2018)
Art displayed at least one more place
Sell a large print
Long Term (2019)
Develop a business plan to sell art at shows
Travel for the sake of making art
None of these came true, at least not when I had intended.
Does a failure to complete goals signify that someone is or is not an artist?
Or does the fact that goals were set, and work has been done towards them, suggest that an artist is at play here?
Perhaps the title comes once financial success plays a part?
My personal opinion is that most of us assume, becoming an artist will come with financial success. How else do you pay for that studio, or the equipment you use in the creation of your art?
I don’t believe that can be the definition of an artist. The created works of an artist can be so abstract, so meaningful or meaningless, as to be unsellable to the greater market. By limiting my highly sought title, I would be discouraging both myself and others who have not managed to make a career of creating.
Though there have been successes. Prints have been sold, albeit in small’ish quantities. I have created artistic calendars that have actually sold, at profit! Again, nothing that would pay for rent or even a weekly grocery bill, BUT! They have never lost me money. As long as I don’t pay myself for the time.
Perhaps another artistical qualifier — Those who spend time regardless of the financial outcome on their craft. A person who creates beyond the intention of income.
What have I decided on today?
I believe art and artists exist.
The definition to become either is loose. I initially wanted to end this article by saying, “Not everything can be art.”
We’ve heard the phrase, “There’s an art to it.”
In that, possibly lies the truth.
Day to day life involves balancing a complex set of rules, processes, and skill. You can operate within the learned parameters, yet, most of life happens outside the lines. You get creative trying to survive.
Life is an art.
If this is an irrefutable truth, then so be it. Now please excuse me…
I have to change my business cards.