Art, Life

Defining “Artist”?

Earlier this week I started taking a closer look at the artists I admire, follow on Instagram, see in textbooks, know in real life, etc.. and I started something of an existential crisis. What else is new? With so much uncertainty in the next few months and me finding a lot of comfort in art and doodling but not having the skills or body of work I feel I should have, I started to think about what really makes someone an artist? I made myself a worksheet.

Q: Why does being an artist matter?

A: But artists make the world turn, don’t they? They’re essential. Yeah, definitely. Where would be without film, poetry, architecture, photography, books, design, and all the other things I preach to my kids? I think maybe that’s why I want to be one.

Q: Why do I want to be an artist?

A: See above. I want to be essential and prove there are things worth making, things worth interpreting in my own way, things worth telling people. I don’t know who I need to prove that to yet. Maybe it’s just me.

Q: What do I have to offer?

A: I have no idea.

Q: What or where is my work right now?

A: Almost entirely observational and/or therapeutic. The physical result of a mediation and study of the world. A method of processing the real and it’s effects on the body and mental state. Cathartic depending on the medium I guess. I’ve been really into late night wine and ink drawing sessions. Depending on your definition, they’ve been pretty successful. I’ve at least improved since high school.

Detail of an early college drawing piece found here

Q: What do I want my work to be or communicate?

A: I don’t know if I’m intentionally trying to communicate anything yet. Very rarely do I set out to “say something”. I think this is probably the next step in starting and building a more solid body of work (besides just producing a lot and experimenting with mediums and styles)

1/3 of a recent photography work found here

Q: Where have I gone wrong in the past?

A: Making art to sell vs. making art that is deeply personal or experimental. (I’ve accepted doing a few commissions and even though they were fun, I quickly got bored.) Why? Because of the media I consume and the often conflicting messages in the sphere of young advertising professionals I follow vs. the fine arts world that I’m still pretty unfamiliar with.

What I need to do: strive to make art that is emotional, evocative, not just commercial and cute even if that’s what I feel I need to do to generate any form of income as a student with a limited understand of how one would ever land a solo exhibition or submit to a call to artists or even . Is commercial or cute bad? I guess not. Warhol made a business of making advertisement artwork. Murakami is displayed and recognized internationally. Some of my favorite artists on YouTube make adorable original comics and illustrations. My work falls somewhere on the spectrum of being necessary to me to create but not “cute” enough to be marketed to the masses or abstract or technically skilled enough to appeal to jurors and potential MFA admissions offices.

Q: How do I lessen the feeling of inferiority? How can I be a “real” artist?

A: Fake it ’til I make it? Make better work? Get an MFA?

Q: What do my friends think an artist is? Are they artists too?


” I consider myself an artist because I art. I can’t help it. I’m not much more than passable in any medium I enjoy, but I create anyway, out of compulsion. So I guess I’m an artist because I can’t NOT be, not because I’m any good at it….Art is something we do as humans. We don’t have to be good at it to be artists.”

“But it does take a level of confidence to say you are an “-ist” or “-er”, right?…”

“…That level of confidence is required to overcome cultural gatekeeping around arts. It’s not inherent in any art.”

“I think most people are artists from my definition. I believe that skills and technique are tools to bring your artistic urges to reality…I’ve not gone to school for it so I probably have very plebeian interpretations. My definitions are based on my college education in Rhetorical Theory, where it’s not just artist intent OR audience reception OR meaning and significance OR technical prowess, but rather the complete interaction of these things that create the art—“the Text” in rhetorical analysis terms”

“I used to get hung up on these questions, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter one bit what you or others label yourself. A thousand people will give you a thousand different definitions out there, none of them can define what makes you happy. Just do what you love to do in what little time you have on this earth, find that one thing that gets you excited when you wake up in the morning. Your life is more than a job title. You got nothing to prove to anybody. A submission is only for people to decide if they like what they see, they are not here to decide what you do is worth doing. If committee A likes red apples, and committee B likes green apples, and I farm pineapples, does it give them the right to say I’m not a farmer? Submit your work. And if it’s their cup of tea, great; if not, they ain’t the only shop in town. And if someone needs you to explain how you’re an artist, tell them to find somebody’s else’s time to waste”

“If you create, you are an artist. When you dance to music, you are creating something for the first time. If you are writing a sentence, even if inspired by another writer, you are creating something for the first time. If you are drawing a picture, even if it’s of a building or something already ‘created’, you are drawing it for the first time, because YOU are drawing it for the first time. No one like you has ever done the thing. So it is original by proxy. We create. We are artists.”

“Intentional communication. Putting your unique perspective outside of your head in such a way that it can be perceived by others….Even if the intention isn’t “art” explicitly, if the intention is to illuminate a subject for others, or to create something beautiful, or to express something that will make someone think twice – that’s art.”

“You can’t answer this question without first answering the question “What is art?”… To me art is an act of intentional creative expression. Anyone who intentionally and creatively expresses something is, in that moment, an artist. Anyone who does that repeatedly becomes a capital a Artist.”

Q: What’s stopping me? Why can’t I just say **** it and call myself an artist because no one can stop me?

A: Lack of skill and intention. Impostor syndrome. I guess I can.

Q: What’s next for me?

A: Lot’s of experimentation, self reflection on what’s important to me to communicate, and reading. Potentially researching MFA programs and associated costs. Possibly, eventually, an artist statement. Most definitely a lot of growing pains.

A future print and parts of a future zine

Bookmarked resources found late a night to form opinions on later: