Wednesday, 20 April 2011

On being an 'artist' and the relevance of that label.

To be or not?

Being an "artist". Well now, what does that mean?

This post is in response to one of Connie's posts which she wrote in response to one of Zom's posts over here. The title of Zom's post is: 'You don't have to be an artist to make art' and her post explores ideas around what it is that makes someone a "bona-fide, proper, real artist" (why I put this in brackets will become clear later) or not and also the fact that if you can or cannot call yourself an artist bears no relevance to if you can or cannot make art (correct me if I've interpreted your post wrongly Zom, this is how I understood it).

Interestinggggg! These ladies wrote about this a while ago and I wanted to write a response sooner, but ha, life got in the way, which in one way was good because it gave me more time to mull over this topic and boy did I mull. I mulled and mulled and mulled. And the question; 'what is an artist' or 'who is an artist' brought me to all sorts of deep philosophical levels which I intend to share with you here. Aren't you lucky? I know, right!? ;) You've been dying to hear my thoughts on this. ;P

So when I read both posts, the first thought that came to me was; "why do we care if we can call ourselves an artist or not?"

I do tend to call myself 'an artist' when someone asks me 'what I do for a living', but I mostly actually say that 'I do art'. Saying that I 'do art' somehow feels less limiting and more open to me.

But for some people the title 'artist' seems to hold great meaning, perhaps it is status, or it gives people permission to create art, or feel free around making art if they can say they are 'an artist'.

Ok, mh. Well, then I thought to myself: 'well, who do I think 'is allowed' or 'can call themselves an artist'? And for me, I figured that I could only define that, if I quantified, or qualified my own personal definition of the term 'artist'. What did I mean by 'artist'? Because this label (like many and most labels) doesn't have a finite definition. Sure, there will be something in Webster's dictionary on it, but this will be limiting. Individuals and cultures all over will have a different definition as to 'what an artist is or not'. I'm aware for instance that there are some cultures in Africa that consider everyone an artist from birth simply because babies produce and create from birth and so do toddlers albeit in ways that we in the West may not consider 'artful' or 'artistic'.

So you can only really label things after you've quantified/ qualified your label. Ie: I may define a builder as 'someone who builds houses or for a living' - someone else may have a much wider definition of what builders are.

Then, I thought, this is interesting, to me it's pretty clear who can or cannot call themselves a 'builder', but when it comes to 'artist' I have a much more murky definition. Ha ha! For me, you don't have to 'make a living out of art' to call yourself an artist.

But this brings me back to why we care so much about calling ourselves that? Why care? If you make art frequently or infrequently and it makes your heart fill with joy then that is just what you do. Do you have to call yourself an artist to justify to others what you do? To feel better about yourself? To give yourself permission? Or is just doing the art enough?

I really don't care if you think you are an 'artist' or not. I care about the art you make and how it makes you feel though. :) Also when you say: 'I am an artist' (or any other label for that matter), you seem to create a rather finite/ closed off definition of who you are.

You, whoever you are, are much more than 'just an artist'. That's why I like saying that I 'do art', rather than 'I am an artist' because I am also, or rather I also 'do' mothering, woman stuff, IT things, website stuff, cleaning things (sometimes, hee), singing things, music stuff, walking stuff, holiday stuff, sitting in the sun stuff, doing wife stuff etc etc.

Labeling myself as 'an artist', 'a woman' or 'a mother' is limiting to me. When I say I am 'a woman', what am I saying? Do I refer to my physical body only? Do I talk about my personality, my characteristic? More accurate would be: 'I am a female-bodied human with both male and female characteristics' (see I told you it would get really deep and philosophical, ha ha). And I can say that I am 'a mother now' but really, I was a mother (or had many mothering qualities) before I ever had a child.

My point being here that, labels, to me, aren't useful without being clear on how you yourself define your label. Also, we can argue endlessly over who defines that label the best, but that seems like a pointless exercise. Everyone will have a different definition, none are right or wrong, they just are, like the people who own the definitions. :) We all grow up or come from different backgrounds and even within a same culture we will define our labels differently. And this is ok to me. If you are going to 'fight' the world on how they define a label that you define differently you'll keep pretty busy for a while me thinks! Ha!

There are no finite definitions of labels somewhere dictated by a magic fairy in the sky. In my opinion, there is no ultimate truth. There is no ultimate truth on the matter of 'who is an artist, mother, woman, builder or not'. There are personal opinions on that one, and that is great. :)

So, it comes down to this for me:

When you want to label something or someone it's useful to first quantify/ qualify your label and be clear that this is *your* definition of said label.

Therefore; if you classify yourself an artist (and again; this is my opinion) then you are one as that is your definition of the term. If my definition and yours match is hardly relevant really. :-)

But mostly, for me, it isn't helpful to focus on how to define yourself with labels. Why limit the multi-faceted amazing person that you are? To me it's much more important to do art and let it fill your soul with joy, love and happiness and a sense of self-connection, presence and healing. Who cares what you label yourself as, to me you are a thousand things more than those few labels. Make art, be happy. :-)

Hug hug hug.


  1. you are awesome! I love your work and your blog and workshops inspire me!! thank you!

  2. You are an amazing person Tam! Your creativity has no limits and you share so willingly with others. I love your work and inspiration!

    Hugs XX

  3. Thank you Tam for sharing.
    You´re an AMAZING PERSON.



  4. Hi Tam, I must admit I feel pretty misunderstood about that post (by a lot of people). Many people seemed to read it as me defining who an artist is. But my intention was only to say that everyone in the entire world is not an artist. And that you don't need to be an artist to make art. That was it. I would NEVER tell anyone that they are not an artist. How would I know?

    I also said in the post that there is no need to define yourself as an artist or not. So in that surely we agree?

  5. Hi Tam, such an intresting article you have wrote! Some days back I read a blog from some-one who was saying that she don't like artist who think that they are artists because their husbands only said so....What do you think of that!
    After reading this article, I first was in shock. My husband always is a big supporter and I never had any other thoughts that he was only a big supporter. But after reading that blog, that tells that people ie husbands are such a big supporters because they want their wifes to sell their art. Only to clearify the money that they spend on buying art materials. It is a little different than what you wrote above, but the article really brings me down! When I came to myself againg, I thought, what kind of person wrote such a thing!? That, speaking of labelling, is certainly no artist! I think everybody is an artist. Just like you said. But being an artist only counts when you are selling, at least some people think so. When you can make a living out of your art. Then, some people think, you are an artist. OMG I hope you understand what I have wrote. I love your article and spread it out over the world... tweet it out over the world.
    Big hugs,

  6. I didn't see those posts before, so thank you for sharing the links - I read them and a very interesting conversation indeed!

    I think everyone has a point...and it all depends on how you define the word "Artist." The same debates flair up when people try to define the word "Art." These discussions have been going on forever...and I don't think there will be a definitive answer in the end.

    Ultimately...they are all just labels as you said! Words to refer to something because otherwise we would have trouble talking to each other about it all LOL. I think in the artsy crafty world...the proclamation of "I am an Artist" has been used to give people confidence to do whatever they want. I don't think it necessarily means a career for everyone either. I suppose that is why some people called themselves a Professional Artist, because it's a job. But that does sound a bit stuffy to me...LOL!

    I think you put it best that in the end it's the most important to create however and whatever you want... don't let these words stop you from creating, having fun and being happy!

  7. @doodle all day - barbara & maria esperanza: thank you ladies, you are mighty awesome yourselves!! :) x

  8. @Zom! hi Zom thanks for dropping by! I'm hearing how you're feeling uncomfortable with regards to how people understood your post. that must be really frustrating as I'm guessing you'd really to be understood for your intention and authentic message?! i want to thank you for your post because I thought it was very interesting and it made me think and think and think and come to all sorts of deep philosophical levels, haha! I have you and Connie to thank for that. I also want to stipulate that my post was in no way an attack on your or Connie post. I was merely throwing in my thoughts on the subject as an 'hey look at all our interesting thoughts on this'. not to judge or defy your post at all! I hope that is clear. :)

    What I got from your post was indeed that you were saying: regardless if someone calls themselves an artist or not or if other people call them that, it doesn't mean that they shouldn't make art. A msg I love.

    I also though thought that you were trying to make some kind of distinction between people who perhaps live for art and those who have it more as a hobby. I strongly got that you wanted the people who really slave for months over a painting to somehow get acknowledgment for that hard work.

    But I'm also hearing that you're saying that you yourself don't consider yourself an appropriate 'judge' to make the judgment of who is or who is not an artist. And perhaps it's this area where you feel misunderstood by some people who read your post?

    I hope this makes sense Zom!

    For me, I wasn't agreeing or disagreeing with either your or Connie's post, I was mostly inspired to pose some similar questions myself and see what came out!

    Thank you again for your post, mighty interesting!

    And once more: I totally hear your msg that everyone can make art. Hear hear!! :)


  9. A very interesting post! I always feel I can't call myself an artist because I don't feel very good at art...I don't even know why i would particularly liek to be called an artist either!! You are right...just make art and be happy!!

  10. @Deezy: hey sweets! If it is true that you are only an artist if you sell your paintings then poor Vincent van Gogh was definitely not an artist (in his life time). He sold nothing as I'm sure you know! But boy oh boy was he an artist and a tortured one at that. If anyone was more an artist than he I don't know who!

    That blog post you describe sounds like it came from someone a tad cynical. I wouldn't let it get you down. I would totally ignore it and brush it off to be honest!

    I'm sure some husbands are supportive because they simply love to see their wives happy and they see the glow they emit when they make art. Any husband must love seeing that on their wives! Perhaps there are some husbands who want their wives to sell. Ok, that could be too.

    But again: why is the label important? I don't think it is. :)

    Thanks sweets!

  11. linda, i love how you said it: "don't let these words stop you from creating, having fun and being happy" - indeed. some of the labelling can totally get in the way of creating and being happy! :) thanks for your thoughtful response. xx

  12. @littleredcraftingcorner - thanks for dropping round sweets! :) x

  13. I really think you've hit on something very true by distinguishing 'I am' statements with 'I do' statements. The latter is way more true and less limiting.

    It's a bit tangential but it also reminds me of the whole mind/body dichotomy. You know, how you would say 'I am depressed' (relating to the mind - and thus translating it into an identity), but you don't say 'I am cancer' (relating to the body - and thus translating it into something almost separate from the 'I').

  14. Great post, Tam! I had trouble defining myself as an artist even though people told me so, yes, even my hubby. :) But since I don't have formal training I can often fall in a trap of feeling inferiour to "real" artists. Thanks to you now I have an alternative. I Do Art. :) I cannot tell you how liberating this is to me. Thanks, Tam. :)

  15. Great post Tam! Well! I read Zom's post and have to confess no matter how much I read it I couldn't make my mind up what exactly she was saying exactly. For me statements that imply that an artist is someone who dedicates their life and locks themselves away and struggles financially echoes of old school elitism. It perpetuates the feeling that being an artist is something beyond most of us. I think somewhere in there there was also an implication that 'real artists' study at art school - this is what has stopped me from thinking of myself as an artist. Cynthia made a comment on Connie's post that until she called herself and artist she didn't 'allow' herself the space and time to work/create - neither did I!

    I am a great believer in positive thinking and manifestation. Put VERY simply (I'm sure there is more to it than just this), firstly you adopt the affirmation "I am an artist/writer", then you start to act as though you are, then you can be one. By calling myself an artist I gave myself permission to practice, to create. I allowed myself the time and space to do this. I also then had the confidence to join (your) class (M3). Now I create whenever I can. I have a studio in my basement. I sell some work. I hang some on my walls. I give it as gifts. Most of all I share it which in turn boosts my confidence in my skills and so I experiment and learn even more!

    I couldn't help but feel that all the debating over whether or not someone is an artist, and who has the right to call themselves so, could prevent someone like me from actually 'having a go' and seems to perpetuate the elitism and snobbery within the art world. OMG! More labels! The Art World! Something quite different to the 'real' or 'ordinary' world where most of us live! another can of worms!

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Tam!

  16. Hi Tam, so basically you are a Social Constructionist ( I agree completely as that is how I see things myself. You are what you are and not what other people say you are, and labels are only a way of constraining us. x

  17. "Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head. You've got to believe." -Jack Nicklaus

    Labels are never necessary. We might think we *need* them, but they are never truly necessary. My one rule of thumb is to ask myself, "Is this *thing, feeling, rule, insert-your-own-word* inclusive...or exclusive?" And anything that is exclusive I toss aside.

    I suspect that those who have trouble with hanging on to labels are dealing with their own inner doubts. It shouldn't matter to any of us what someone else labels us. That's merely their perception.

  18. Hi Tam, very thought-provoking post and one I can relate to, but using the label "writer", not artist. If I tell people I'm a writer, they immediately think - "what have you published?" But my definition of a writer is someone who writes every day, who thinks about writing, who wants to learn the craft and create something that makes her heart sing. Whether what I write gets published or not is beside the point!
    So, yes, I think it's a good idea to define the label. And if my definition doesn't match someone else's, well, that's really not a problem. :)

  19. Being a creative person who loves to make things and seeing the beauty of things is different than being an artist. It is a trade. If you look in the dictionary it even defines an artist as someone who learned this skill. Van Gogh was trained to be an artist. he may not of sold anything, but he was an apprentice to an artist. You and Zom either went to school to learn your trade or worked professionally in an art career or both. Until anyone can walk into a juried gallery, apply for an art career without proof of a degree and dont have to list credentials, not everyone can be an artist. Alot of famous artists had degrees, connections with people of the art world/goverment ties. Some just have marketing skills and are good business people. Today's artist are either teaching at a school or they are doing workshops to make money. They may sell some of their art as well. Its good to encourage people to create and become a muse but its another to say anyone can be an artist. And then they go and try to sell something or apply for an artsy job and cant without those skills


Thank you for connecting with me. I appreciate you! <3


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