What is Art? and Who Is an Artist?

(more than most imagine . . . . . . . . . and YOU!)

Many people have preconceived notions about the word “Artist.”  Years ago, there were stigmas associated with the notion of “being an Artist” (i.e. a financially unstable hippie).

There are also assumptions about who can call themselves an Artist. In the 1800s, Art Academies in Europe set the standards for what could and couldn’t be called art. Thankfully, that has changed. But in many communities, art shows still only allow juried works. As a consumer of art, that’s always bothered me, because I don’t want someone else to be limiting my options of what art I might have liked. 

Another common point of view has been that the title “Artist” is one saved for those that have an Art degree from an Art school and are working on perfecting their art for sale. It is their career. This is a fast way to keep many of us, myself included, from using that title out of respect for the dedication of professional artists. Plus, I don’t want to feel like a fake with my Community College art classes.

But, thankfully, I think this is changing. There are a lot of opportunities for self education with art. The internet has classes, some 5 minutes, some hours long, some months long (!) of instructions on creating things for  anyone who wishes to pursue those endeavors. A lot of people are making art and selling art on the internet. But what to call oneself and your product if the word Artist isn’t appealing to you?

Crafter is a word I’ve heard people use, but I fear people imagine crafters are playing with pipe cleaners and don’t have the respect for how hard some crafts are and how much dedication it takes to learn a craft well. Artisan is a word that comes with respect, someone skilled in a trade making things by hand. But it is somewhat limiting with the use of the word trade. 

What if the art is just for fun? Or for personal growth? Or to share your joy with others? 

My new favorite title is Creative. It is applicable to so many art forms: cooking, gardening, and home decorating come to mind. My daughter reminded me that one of my best creative stages was motherhood! Planning creative fun ways for my kids to learn and grow took on a highly artistic form in our house, which I’d like to think contributed to having two highly artistic, creative, brilliant adult children now. 🙂

Creativity is simply the process of using your imagination, opening your mind up to possibilities, and channeling your voice. Creatives transcend traditional ideas, rules, and relationships to create meaningful new ideas. Creativity is Imagination. It is finding our inner child and our sense of wonder and applying it to the space we are currently in. It is Art. 

Taking the stigma away from the word Artist allows us to explore our own creativity. I know many people who are afraid to try art because they think they can’t make anything, or it wouldn’t be good enough. But good enough for whom? One time, one of my friends left a fun ceramic painting afternoon we were having with our kids because she was too self conscious and felt pressured to create something amazing. I felt so sad for her that she had internalized all these presumptions about being artistic and couldn’t just have fun with us. Her work, and SHE, was good enough but she walked away from a joyful afternoon. 

Get rid of that baggage and open up new notions of art in your mind. The process of making art IS art. Many things can be artistically done. Going for a walk can be artistic when you use your imagination and really look at your environment. Start with really looking and seeing what’s around you.  It’s a great way to get ideas. One of the side effects of my first painting class was that everywhere I went I was seeing colors, really looking at the sky, the grass… anything and everything, and wondering what paint colors I’d need to make that color. It woke my mind and senses up! One of my drawing classes required a weekly self portrait drawing. I began looking at my face and the faces of others more closely. I was falling more in love with the nuances of the faces of people I loved – and loving them more. 

Even “cheating” is art for me. Sometimes I’ll copycat something (biggest form of flattery!) and somewhere along the way my own creativity and imagination open up and  and I find my own voice and it is no longer a copy – it is me. There is no right or wrong way to make art, there are as many ways as we can come up with ideas.  There is no jury other than your own self and soul. 

Many famous artists were self-taught: Vincent van Gogh, Frieda Kalho, and Grandma Moses are a few. And many were creating their art for their own reasons: for therapy, for enjoyment, or even to help with arthritis. If you feel called to make things, it doesn’t matter the title you give it. Be a Maker! Make up a new title. 🙂 Just make things! Start looking closely at the world around you. See what is happening. See where it takes you.

Picasso said, “All children are artists.” Find that inner child. Go have some fun, wander, wonder, break some rules, be a copycat. Get other people’s voices out of your head. My best work is when I am doing it for myself and not overly concerned about the outcome. Even better is when I’ve played with the canvas, not liked it, then scraped it off and start again. The canvas finds its own direction when I don’t overthink it. Unsurprisingly, these are the works that people buy the most – my genuine and authentic expressions of my self including all the mistakes along the way. “There are no mistakes in art. Just happy little accidents,” said Bob Ross. My happy little accidents are my best work.

We’re all creatives.  If you feel compelled to start finding your inner child again, go to the store and see what supplies speak to you. Or look at what is in your closet or garage and imagine ways to put things together. Make something. Go buy the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and guide yourself into the artist you want to be. Or don’t be an artist. Be a Maker, Creative, Artisan. It doesn’t matter… just get playing. 

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