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

Laugh?

Say “no you’re not”?

Say “but you can’t draw”?

Say “but that’s awful – that’s not art” about what we create?

Probably.

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!

What do you think?

9 Thoughts to “Are you an artist?”

  1. Rachel says:

    That’s part of the reason I tell people “I tell stories in stitch”. That neatly sidesteps the “artist” question. But, for what it’s worth, if driven to it, yes, I would claim to be a textile artist, if only to help rebalance the narrative that “art = paint, sculpture whereas textile=craft”. My mother, who is a painter, says she wouldn’t claim to be an artist, whereas I think she definitely is!

  2. Fra says:

    If you asked all the above questions about say baking or stringing beads – would that make you a baker or a jeweller?
    Personally I think not.
    So for me there is much more to being an artist. I think even there is an element of work standing the test of time involved.
    I am certainly a maker, and probably a crafter or craftsperson. But definitely not an artist.

    1. Isobel says:

      You make an interesting point – but I suppose I would say that they (baker etc) have a “tighter” definition, there’s not as much to them as there is to being an artist – which can encompass a huge array of different pursuits. Then again, I sense my argument may not be 100% watertight…

      I do like the idea of things standing the test of time – that they have something “other” to them, something that keeps them alive, something deeper. But I’m interested that you are so definite about not being an artist – not even a little bit artist?!

  3. Wendy Seddon says:

    Hi Isobel,
    Listening to the podcast you posed a question about whether you’re still an artist if you’re not making art? My immediate thought was that a person working in any field must have “down time”. If you teach Monday to Friday does that mean on the weekends or in vacation time you’re no longer a teacher?
    There is also the dilemma between being either a professional artist or an amateur. While plenty of artists are able to sell their work few would be able to consistently make a living from it. What are the implications in this case?
    Overall I think we should call ourselves whatever we’re comfortable with and move on from outdated ideas on what constitutes art and artists. Do whatever brings you joy and ignore the doubters, especially the internal ones.
    Love listening to your podcast with Gina and being inspired by your Instagram posts. Looking forward to more of both throughout 2022.

    1. Isobel says:

      I’m with you!!! How many “professional” artists, making their living from selling their art, are actually making the art that they would call art 100% of the time? Particularly if they teach, too?

      I do like the idea of calling ourselves whatever we want, and moving on – but there is the knotty problem of some labels not being respected as much. But that also doesn’t mean we should conform just to fit the old narrative. It all depends how much it matters to us, in the moment, in the situation we are in – there’s always a certain amount of “playing the game” especially when it comes to promoting ourselves etc.

  4. Gina+Ferrari says:

    Oooh… some interesting points that would have made for a meaty chat because I don’t entirely agree. I think you do actually have to create and to make the art to be an artist. Whilst that desire (I identify it as a need) to create is an essential part of being an artist it’s not enough on it’s own.

    1. Isobel says:

      Interesting!! I probably don’t mean “just” the urge to create and nothing else, that wouldn’t make sense either, but I wonder how we measure the time allowed between “creative events” to still be called an artist? What counts, and what’s too big a gap? And who decides?

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