Am I Really an Artist?

I’ll cut right to the chase here. Yes, I am an artist. I might not be a very good artist, but that’s almost irrelevant. The point is, I am indeed an artist.

Recently, though, I found myself asking that age-old question, wondering all over again if I could truly call myself an artist. When I began this blog in March 2016, I did not consider myself an artist, but finally came around to seeing myself as someone who was becoming an artist. I was learning, I was developing new skills. But I was definitely not an artist, if only because I simply could not associate that word with myself.

Being an artist, I’ve learned now, has a lot to do with choice. It’s not all a matter of talent or training. It’s partly attitude, too.

Of course, anyone who enjoys drawing, painting, or other forms of art may be called an artist. So maybe I need to differentiate a bit between what it means to be an artist and what it means to be a real artist. Any one of us can figuratively hang out our shingle and proclaim “I am an artist.” Logically, let’s look at this syllogism:

Artists have art studios

I have an art studio.

I am, therefore, an artist

Flawed logic, yet there’s a bit of truth here. I have an art studio. It’s filled with art supplies. I come here every day to create something I call art. I must be an artist, and again, yes, I am, if only because I choose to claim that title for myself.

Yet in recent days, I’ve begun questioning myself again. I’m having fun playing in my studio, yet in all honesty, I haven’t produced any “works of art” for quite some time. I’m doing color studies, making quick sketches, playing with watercolor. What right do I have to call myself an artist when I really have nothing to show for it?

In my mind, I went back to my old definition of what an artist is. Quite simply, an artist is someone who can draw. Growing up, that was always the standard by which I measured who among my friends were actually artists. I had a few very talented friends who could sit down and draw anything! They were artists. I, on the other hand, could not draw at all. I was clearly not an artist.

Even when I saw modern art and abstract art — which had nothing to do with representational drawing — I still called them “art” and still saw their creators as “artists”, believing they could draw if they chose to, but for one reason or another, they chose a different form of expression.

This brings me to a second artist criterion I developed in my head, primarily from knowing several artists — real artists who had attended real art schools. Visiting their homes was such an exciting thing! Everywhere I looked I saw testaments to their creativity. Their homes were colorful, filled with artistic touches and evidence of their undeniable talents. An artist was someone who had that “artistic sensibility”. Was this something that could be taught? I doubted it, and I didn’t see myself ever having it.

As I began learning to draw and exploring other areas of art, I gradually added a third rung to the “artistic” ladder of success. Real artists were professionals who worked in the field, made money from their art, paid their bills, and supported themselves from their talent. Real artists sell their works, have art displayed in galleries and at exhibitions. They work in creative art-related positions such as commercial artist, graphic designer, or teacher.

In conjunction with this “professional” definition of an artist, it followed logically that a true artist had received training. True artists attended art schools or received specialized training through ateliers, apprenticeships, or other art programs.

By these criteria, no way could I have called myself an artist a few years ago. Even now, I can barely claim to be an artist based on these three principles of what an artist is. I’ve taken a few art classes online, and I can draw better than I could a few years ago, so, yes, there’s that. And I have had artworks displayed in galleries and exhibitions. I have had works commissioned, and I have sold paintings. It’s always nice to make a few dollars from art here and there, but overall, of course, I don’t rely on art for my livelihood. Thank goodness!

Where I am seeing myself as an artist now is in that “creative, artistic sensibility” area. Especially here in the studio, I can look around and see creativity everywhere. I have oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, acrylic pourings, alcohol ink works. I have collages, art journals, and interesting abstract paintings on display. When friends or family members come to visit they always want to see the studio, and they’re always excited by what they see around them. And it’s true in our house, as well. I have paintings hanging on the wall. I have other little “creative touches” all around. It’s clear to see that, yes, an artist lives here.

For me, I’m seeing that an artist doesn’t have to meet all the requirements I once believed were necessary. I don’t have to attend art school to call myself an artist. I don’t have to excel in drawing. I don’t have to support myself as a working artist. Yet I can still call myself an artist — I can still be an artist — because I have developed that free-spirited creative sense of art.

I think it’s been there all along. I’ve always been creative. For a long time, my creativity expressed itself in other ways — through music, dancing, writing, cooking, interior design, and other pursuits — and now, at last, its finding expression through more visual arts, through drawing, painting, experimenting with colors and tools.

Of all the “requirements” I’ve set for being an artist, I believe now that this creative spirit, this freedom of expression is the single most important aspect. Truly one can be an artist without being able to draw exceptionally well. One can be an artist without displaying or selling one’s work. But no one can become an artist without that creative spirit that inspires us, informs us, and drives us.

In recent months, this is what I’ve been developing within myself even without clearly being able to define it. All my explorations, my experimentation, my craziness, madness, and art chaos has been opening up new channels for creative expression. And that’s what being an artist is really all about.

Yes, creativity can be developed, and artistic sensibility can come along as part of it. So, don’t ever doubt yourself. Do all those wild and ridiculous things that come into your head when you’re playing with art. Be willing to make lots of mistakes, try lots of different things, and if something doesn’t work out, shrug it off and do something else.

Today, I’m happy to call myself an artist. But even more, I’m happy to be an artist, to possess the freedom to play with colors and moods and emotions, to tell visual stories, and to make lots of messes in my studio. Yes, I am an artist, and I’m loving it.

31 Comments

    1. It’s so much about feeling comfortable with art. Learning to truly relax and “let go” has made a major change in my art. My works are as imperfect as ever, yet at the same time, I feel they’re a lot more “artistic” and “creative”. Interesting how that works. 🙂

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  1. This is a mirror image of my questioning — am I a writer? Sure, I have a blog. But is that really writing creativity? I have a few short pieces published, but no books. No novels. Can I still consider myself a writer? My confirmation are the novels and short stories I HAVE written. The power behind the written word. The ideas. The simple things like grammar that many cannot master. And most of all, I feel the power. The calling. All the time. Whether it’s a blog entry of a novel, the excitement every time I get into what I’m doing makes me an artist. Thank you for affirming that.

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  2. I loved reading this post and really relate to it. I also have definitions and criteria and comparison that I set before myself which keeps me from truly owning the title of artist. It’s not at all helpful and something I have given a lot of thought to so I really appreciate reading your perspective here. 💕

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  3. I’m so glad you alluded to “music, dancing, writing, cooking, interior design, and other pursuits” – – – but was a bit dismayed when you didn’t ultimately define those are “arts.” Musicians are artists. Dancers are artists. Writers are artists. Culinary arts tell you – yes – a great chef is an artist. Interior design artists and other artistic pursuits… fashion design, architects, vintners, photographers… ah yes, artists all!! To limit the title of artist to the visual arts is a travesty. I know you agree!!

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  4. I draw, paint in different mediums but have never commissioned art works or displayed in galleries yet. But still I’m proud to call myself an artist because I love art and I can paint and draw quite well.

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  5. I agree with you that there’s an inner creative quality that defines what makes an in artist. Take Jazz music which I played many years realizing that my “feel” for the music meant more than the music itself.

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    1. Oh, yes. What’s that old saying about jazz? Something along the lines that “if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never understand it.” That’s true with much of art, I think.

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  6. This is a thought minefield in so many ways and we put barriers in the way in our minds. Maybe just as we say, I think therefore I am we draw or paint or create… therefore I am. 🙂

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