Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why is it Difficult to Claim the title of Artist?

As I've been reading blogs and tweets and articles, and talking with other artist friends, I have noticed that it's difficult for some creative people to refer to themselves as artists. There's a tendency to apologize for being creative, and spending time in creative endeavors. This strikes a chord with me, because I, too, still fight feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

I remember having a conversation quite a few years ago with another artist friend, about whether we were artists with a capital "A" or a lower case "a". I'll give us credit for the fact that we were even talking about being artists, as I felt that just referring to myself that way was somehow unthinkable. Years later, it seems somewhat sad that we even contemplated a difference. Which brings me to the question, what is the mystique of calling oneself an artist? Why is it so difficult to claim the title?

David Bayles and Ted Orland, in their book "Art and Fear" talk about the "view of artmaking today - namely, that art rests fundamentally upon talent, and that talent is a gift randomly built into some people and not into others." In other words, the artist has been given a gift and is able to create great works of art because of this alone. Prodigies are rare, but as a culture we've all bought into the image. Speaking for myself, it leaves me with feelings of insecurity, and wondering if I'm "talented" enough.

Intellectually, I know, art is made by ordinary people. People who work hard to learn the basics; who produce a lot of work that ends up in the waste basket. While talent might be a step in the proverbial direction, it's really an issue of passion. When the desire to create overcomes the fear of not being perfect, one can make marks on the paper, or put brush to canvas or cut the fabric. When I'm not thinking about the end result, but focusing on the process, I learn something. What I'm producing in that moment may not be the best work of art I've ever done, but the knowledge gained from creating it will be put to use on the next piece. It's the passion that makes me want to go the next step, create the next piece. It may end up as part of the trash tomorrow, but today, it's what I do.

So, what about others? Is it difficult for you to call yourself an artist? And if not, have you always been able to? I welcome your comments.


  1. First, I think I'm an artist, not an Artist (to me, the latter is someone trying and managing to make a living on their art products:).

    For me, artist is my 'religion', my spiritual pathway -- when I create (and on good days, even when I am not creating) I can feel the river of fire running through me -- the creative flow. :)

    If that sounds too 'touchy-feely', reflect that I trained as a scientist and I am still able to reason like one, when I need to do so. :)

    the wonderful thing about the world is that there is room for all of us in it, whether artist or Artist or crafter or crafty or just a Maker.

    :) Linda

  2. I have a tremendously hard time calling myself an artist except when I don't have to think about it. Whenever thought takes over it makes it darn impossible. I can call myself an artist on my blog because it's anonymous but to put myself out there as a person is hard.

    I started out as a housewife afgan and sampler maker and then a crafter and now here I am. Took me years to figure out that people liked my work enough to consider it art. But that being said it's still incredibly hard.

    I loved your entry and I do think of creativity in any form as a gift. I recently read Outliers and he said 10,000 hours of work go into an overnight success. I prefer to look at my work that way instead of luck.

  3. Because I'm the director at an art center, I see a lot of people struggling with this concept. We offer classes and many of the students come in apologizing for their artwork's shortcomings. One artist whose paintings have been selling the most is also the most modest and self-effacing. People are forever coming and claiming they can't draw a straight line to which I always reply, "Neither can I, I use a ruler." Others assure me they can't paint or draw at all to which I respond, "We can fix that," but I soon discover they can indeed paint or draw but someone, somewhere, at some time has made them think they can't. I have no proof, but I suspect the tendency of teachers -- school teachers, camp teachers, pre-school teachers, parents, etc. -- to give children projects that must be copied exactly is the culprit. At an early age potential artists discover their work falls short of expectations. There is an insidious "standard" out there and it will never be met; they cannot be artists, they are not good enough. Linda Schiffer said she thought she was an "artist" not an "Artist" and Tangled Stitch only feels safe calling herself an artist on her blog which is anonymous. If you think, to be a "big A Artist," you must make a living from your work, remember Van Gogh who sold one painting and lived off his brother's largesse. If you think to be a "big A Artist" you must always do the art correctly, you must remember that all artists experiment with their work and media; we frequently toss it, rip it, or paint over it! And if you think the public has to approve of your work before you can be a "big A Artist" remember that the art establishment and public totally trashed the artists we now know as Impressionists; called some of them "fauves" which translates "animals." Now there's a whole different argument about the difference between "art" and "craft" which implies artist v. crafter... but I'm not going there today!