Recently someone asked me “What does it mean to you when someone says ‘artist’?” I thought I knew, but then as I thought some more I questioned my ingrained beliefs. My first thought was a creative person, but is that really what I thought? I have always been a creative person, but there definitely was a time that I truly wished I was an artist!
I think society leads us to believe that a true artist is much grander than just someone who creates. I’ve definitely remember carrying the imposter syndrome with me when I’ve attended some art shows. I’ve have felt a level of snobbery when someone looked at my art work, turned up their nose and walked away. I have even experienced rejection from art guilds which outwardly excluded certain media (e.g., photography or textiles) from their exhibits.
I guess this is why I’m so proud of Bisa Butler and her textile portraits. This past year her colorful fabric portraits hung in 3 gallery rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work proudly displayed near artwork of the world’s masters, Matisse, Rembrandt, Picasso, Kahlo, etc. Bravo for breaking (many) barriers!
So is it the media or the perceived skill level? Some might argue that Jackson Pollock didn’t use skill making his paint splattered canvases. But, Pollock is a highly regarded “artist.” So perceived skill is not what it takes to make someone an artist.
Another issue is that many people think the word “artist” means painter or visual artist. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m an artist. Do you know that a good majority of the time their response is “What do you paint?” Hmmm? What limits their view? Why aren’t they including musicians, potters, photographers, authors, cooks, etc?
Awhile back, I wrote about the limitation of classifying an artist based only if they sold work or not. Using “professional artist” as the definition is another argument that has little value in defining the word.
Its a lot to think about, but my lesson is that we must embrace and encourage a wider view of the word. As a dear friend said, there’s a spectrum to all of this. We have big name artists who we recognize as masters and a range of artists that are lesser known. There’s also the artist that no one ever thinks of or knows; the one who creates amazing art and never shows it to anyone.
I guess there never will be an agreeable definition, but I say embrace them all because: