Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Who is an artist?

When I was five I announced to my parents and a few other adults present that I was an artist. They all rushed in to suggest that I meant that I intended to be an artists when I grew up.

I held my ground.

About thirteen years later , I had a similar discussion with a history professor who I worked for at my college. I made reference, in passing, to being an artist, and he stopped me. “You mean you are an art student”. he corrected.

Again, I held my ground.

I still believe that if you make art  you are an artist.

I recently heard on the radio our national poet laureate Charles Wright saying that he doesn’t feel entitled to call himself a poet, but rather tells people that he writes poems. He feels that the word is a title that someone else assigns.

I agree that the title of  poet (or artist) is an honorific of sorts, but earned in a dfferent way. It is both easier and harder to earn the title in my way of thinking. Labeling yourself as an artist, in my construct,  makes no judgement on the quality of your work, but simply reflects that you do it.

I have known many, many artists in the past decades, as friends, students, and participants in my mentoring groups, which are designed to support the development of their work and careers. Of all of the struggles that artists face, the biggest one is getting themselves into the studio and getting to work.

The sources of this reluctance follow some common threads. It is not, as some fear, that the foot-dragging artist is in some way not, deep down, truly creative. It is more likely to be the fear of facing yourself in an endeavor that requires just that; a difficulty in quieting the chattering mind that is epidemic in our society; fear of failure; and maybe even fear of success.

That you feel reluctance does not mean that you are not a real artist…unless you give into it. You may have the heart/soul/mind/background of an artist, you might be thinking about making art all of the time, but if you are not making art, that is all theoretical. Art-making is a process, and often one that is full of surprises. This is an old truism among writers as well…ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all in how you execute them (and that you execute them).

I am not interested in splitting hairs, precise timelines, or cutoffs. (You are an artist if you have made art in the past week/month. You are not an artist if you haven’t. You must have made X number of pieces of art in the past year to call yourself an artist…and so on.)

However, something needs to be coming into the world that didn’t exist before.

There are various tricks to get yourself into the studio (“I am just going to gesso this canvas”), but in the end you pretty much have to muscle through the resistance.

The good news is that after some period of doing that, it becomes a habit, and and as the resistance lifts what was there all along emerges clearly—a love for the process that sweeps you off your feet, again and again.

A piece done by my 19- year-old artist self, a double-page spread from an complete Newsweek magazine that I converted to art. while on fellowship in Madrid in 1978-79.

A piece done by my 19- year-old artist self, a double-page spread from an complete Newsweek magazine that I converted to art while on fellowship in Madrid in 1978-79.


Related post: Is Making Art Work?

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