Are you an artist?
I’ve had various beliefs on this one, ranging from “but what I make isn’t very good so therefore I’m not an artist” to “I can’t take seriously all that arty bollocks that people write about their work and I definitely can’t write it, therefore I’m not an artist” to “if I say I am, maybe I’ll believe I am” to my current cast-iron belief, that
Yes – I am an artist.
It can be such a tough question to answer – but why is that? Do we worry that if we say we’re an artist, people will
Say “no you’re not”?
Say “but you can’t draw”?
Say “but that’s awful – that’s not art” about what we create?
But…so what? Why should we care?
If you cut your hair short because you can’t be bothered to spend ages washing and drying it, you like the feeling of lightness when it’s cut, you can’t stand hair touching your neck or blowing across your face in a stiff breeze, or needing to be tied up out of the way whenever you’re doing anything messy, would you care two hoots whether a random stranger said “I prefer long hair”?
Why do we care when it comes to what we create?
And therein lies the answer.
If you care, you’re an artist.
Here’s what I think makes an artist:
1. You have a persistent desire to create
And you’ve probably had it all your life. Whether that was colouring with felt pens when you were a child, playing with Lego, cutting and sticking, sewing, quilting, silk painting, making models from Fimo – basically, creating something that wasn’t there before that didn’t really have any purpose, just something you wanted to make.
You may find it waxes and wanes. Sometimes you don’t have a pull to do anything and you leave the studio to immerse yourself in another project – but the desire to create always comes back.
Up until very recently (today in fact, when I started thinking about this more deeply) I was very hung up on my previous belief that to be an artist, I had to be actively creating. Now I recognise that it’s the urge to create that’s important, that itchy feeling I get inside, the need to get my hands on something and paint/draw/stitch/felt/stick/shape some materials into something that doesn’t yet exist.
If my previous definition (that I had to “be” creating) was true, then how would that be measured? Do we each have an allotted target or quota for creating art? If I have a day or a weekend off and don’t create, am I still an artist? If I go on holiday for two weeks or I’m lying in a hospital bed for a month and I don’t create, do I have the title of Artist stripped from me? Nah. That’s silly.
2. You’re miserable when you’re not creating
Related to the first clue, if your desire to create is stifled – whether by self-sabotage, or circumstance – you’ll find yourself thoroughly miserable. You may not automatically connect a low mood to a lack of an outlet for your creativity, but I’d put money on it being a significant factor.
3. You care about what you’re creating
If what you created didn’t have anything of “you” in it, if you created it with no thought or care or expression, why would you care what anyone else thought? And the more self-expression you put into your creations, through the use of colour or materials or composition or subject matter etc, then the more you will feel vulnerable in sharing it – initially.
The vulnerability thing becomes easier, once you embrace Not Caring and accepting that whether you are an artist or not does NOT depend on what other people think! It can still trip you up, usually when you least expect it, but that’s a clue that what you are doing matters to you – so even feeling awful and vulnerable and a little bit sick can be a good thing!
4. You’re always learning
Because you care, you’re always trying to improve. Whether that’s by learning new techniques, practising, trying different things, talking to other artists, being interested in what other people are doing, unpicking or painting over. Or maybe it’s by ripping it up and starting again – which can feel good, because…
5. You like starting – and maybe not so worried about the finishing
You’re always excited about starting and can’t wait to get all set up ready to go. Enjoying the process, even if bits are tricky (such as making that first mark or the very last mark) or perhaps look to others like you’re not doing anything (finding and choosing materials) once you’re up and running, you’re happy. It doesn’t matter if you prefer to work in short bursts or marathon sessions where you lose track of time – overall, you are happier making than not. Finishing is less important to you than starting.
NB This doesn’t mean you don’t like finishing. For example, my husband says he’s always looking to the finish line of a writing project, and finds it hard to put down until he’s crossed it – but he acknowledges a definite unsettled, unhappy feeling if he doesn’t then have a new project to go to.
6. You lose yourself in the process
As mentioned above, you can easily lose track of time, forget to eat or drink, or suddenly realise you haven’t been to the loo and have been crossing your legs for hours, then yep! You’re an artist!
7. You’d do it all again
Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, but when you finish something, you know that you’ll feel the urge to create again. Even if you don’t like what you made, it didn’t match the picture you had of it in your head – or maybe you love it and don’t think you’ll make another one as good ever again – whatever the outcome, you know you’ll do it all over again one day.
Here’s a question for you…
Do we make it easier or worse if we call ourselves Textile Artists? Easier to say but not respected as much? Or a more honest reflection? And does it matter?!
We ponder this in this episode of the podcast – have a listen to find out what we think!