I Am An Artist – Really?

Years ago I became aware of how many times, upon meeting me for the first time, someone would ask, “Are you an artist?”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t flaunt orange hair and nose piercings. I don’t even wear flamboyant, artsy clothes. (Pretty, yes. Sometimes beautiful, yes. Just not what I would call “artsy,” which conjures up, in my mind, gorgeous handmade yummies.) And I certainly don’t turn up in torn jeans with paint all over them.

Nevertheless, that question – Are you an artist? – seems to travel everywhere I do. And it always makes me…pause. “Not really…” I start out. Then follow-up with an awkward list of what I do – none of which falls into traditional artist categories: fine art, craft, music, dance, etc – but does included working with  you – the real artist.

A shorter, more honest answer would be: “Yes, but I’m knee deep in denial.”

Let there be light

Before I can fully step onto the path that will give me the greatest chance to unfold my true self, I have to name it. Naming has the remarkable effect of causing that which has been named to be seen. One of the most famous naming phrases of all time is: Let there be light. (And artists have been turned toward that light ever since!)

If what I’ve just written is true, then what keeps us, keeps me, from owning the name that most accurately describes my calling? For as long as I hold back from what is pretty obvious to everyone else, I have no chance of being the artist that I am.

Am I afraid, once I own it, that now I have to live up to it? And what would the “it” be that I’m imagining I have to live up to? The torn jeans and orange hair? The collective mandate to starve, go mad, and join a cult?

Or am I hiding my light so I’m less visible, because visibility is dangerous? (This is especially true in our culture for women, where we are an ongoing target for all levels of violence in our daily lives.)

Maybe I’m treading on the posted territory of my parents (painter/writer), where the fine print at the bottom of their love contract with me stated that I would be loved as long as I didn’t go after their creative power.

Or perhaps I have a limited identity of what it means to be an artist. I’m looking at product (paintings, sculpture, compositions…) instead of process (creating, inventing, designing…).

Could be I’m just chicken, as claiming my artistic mantle carries a responsibility I’m afraid I can’t live up to.

The first step is owning your calling

Before you, the artist, can move forward into the world with your art, some part of you must be willing to stand tall and hold out your “artist” name for the rest of us to clearly see.

It’s not enough to produce your art, because at some point you are going to want that art to live in the world with the rest of us. And we are going to see you at an opening, meet you at a New Year’s Eve party, double on a date with you, and we are going to ask, “Are you an artist?”

And it will be the clarity of your voice, the sparkle in your eye, and the confident delight of your response that will cause us to turn and view your work with a renewed interest, ask you for more information (like your website!), and count our blessings that we discovered you.

Hear, I’ll go first

So in the spirit of my new personal business persona, I stand before all of you – my merry band of artists – and say to you: Yes, I am an artist.

(And the next time you see me, my nose will be pierced,  I’ll have flame orange hair, and a prescription for lithium!)


P.S. Because it seems I’ve caused a bit of confusion, let me restate what I put in a comment reply: I am not a visual artist, as in sculptor, potter, or painter. I am an artist as in passionate creator of what will help you, the visual artist I serve, put your art in the world and sell it. The Interweb is my canvass, words are my medium, info-products & events are the creative result, i.e., the smARTist Telesummit, Sell Your Art Bundle, Writing The Artist Statement, and one-on-one art career coaching (to request a free consultation, email: ariane (at) smartist.com).

Your Turn: If you had to take a stab at it, tell me why you do or do not call yourself an artist. What does it mean when you answer to the name of artist?

28 Responses to “I Am An Artist – Really?”

  1. Good subject, as for myself there is nothing else I could do about it, I simply am and there is no escape and the worlds view means nothing.

  2. Stephen – when you call yourself “artist,” what does that mean to you?

  3. When I call myself an “Artist,” it means that “Artist” is my chosen profession. I have created art all my life, but I have not been an artist all my life. For the last 12 years, being an artist is what I do. Before that I was a publisher. For me, art is not a hobby, and it is not an “interest.” I correct people (nicely) when they use those words to describe what I do. I am a professional artist and I want that to be clear.

  4. Ok this post is written with the presupposition that being an artist is bad stuff. Come on…really? I don’t have any problem telling people I’m an artist (or aspiring to be one).
    True, when I hear an 80-year-old woman say, “I’m an artisht,” I think, “oh great.” I guess it depends on if it’s obvious the person is making a living at it or just dabbles with WalMart paint every fifth Saturday in February.

    If you’re serious about what you do, than there’s no reason to get upset telling people about it. Not all artists look/act/dress weird.

  5. Ellen Lane says:

    Wow! a lot of prejudices going on here: Artists are wacky looking are bi-polar and if you are old you are not a real artist. One thing about creative people is they usually don’t stereo-type… knowing anything is possible. For me being an artists is a privilege and I am grateful everyday I AM!

  6. Jake Beckman says:

    My name is Jake, I am an artist. I have basically decided I must be crazy as I seem to have this strange idea that I should be paid for it. I am not particularly wacky-in fact my day job (until I can survive on my artist wages) is an tax accountant-which means my public persona is very staid. I do not have orange hair. I do not dress in weird clothes nor sport a nose ring (although I do have some clothing with paint all over them). I do not have a perscription for lithium or any other drugs. Some of my best artist friends do fit into one or another of these stereotypes, but certainly not all of them; I do not think their appearance defines them as artists though-it is the creative itch that does. As for me, I have been scratching, scribbling and coloring since I first could hang onto a crayon. Creation is the only constant in my otherwise random life. I would much rather hand out a business card for my art than my tax practice. I would rather paint than count beans any day. And I believe people like my art, as they say they do and that is good enough for me. My name is Jake, I am an artist.

  7. Whoa – hold on a minute. I was not indicating that the cultural archetypes of artists on the whacko end of the scale was either accurate (though historically, there have been a few high profile cases that have shored up these stereotypes) or all that there is.

    I was exploring how these stereotypes might have impacted me when someone assumed I was an artist and I was more than hesitant (not any more!) to take on that mantel.

    And I wasn’t implying – at all – that creative people stereotype (though I’m betting you can find one or two who might :-), but that we are not necessarily immune to the collective stories of our culture.

    And good for you – to feel the privilege of being serious artists! Though I’m curious, what specifically determines, in your mind, Martyn, a serious artist (beside pitting it against an 80 year old woman who paints for fun)?

    And Ellen, all those descriptions were written tongue-in-cheek.

  8. Jake Beckman says:

    Actually I was not offended. I was amused.

  9. Sari says:

    For the record, when I work with a gallery or art coach or take a seminar, & all of a sudden the gallery owner or art coach or speaker at the seminar announces that they are now artists too, I leave…I leave the gallery, I dump the art coach & drop taking those seminars…Why? because there was trust involved…I trusted them with my secrets, my recipes, my goals & my career, & now they have decided to compete with me, & compete with me they can, because I have shared with them what I do not share with competitors…I’m sorry but this is my life & my career & my livelihood & I do not rejoice when those who have said they will help me with the business stuff , tell me that now they are going to do what I do…
    I try very very hard not to copy people’s lives who I am close to, & it would seriously upset many if I decided to go into their line of work, after spending much time with them…
    I remember Geoffrey Gorman sold me a package many many years ago- as an artist coach type thing- now he calls himself an artist…Whoopdedoo…That’s just great…
    I’m sorry but it is natural to be influenced if you are surrounded by artists…But if you are here to help us, you will stay loyal to that intent…
    If you are here to become one of us, well, you are just more competition in an already too full field…
    I’m sorry Ariane, if you truly are shifting paths from helping artists to being an artist…
    Maybe I misunderstood…If so, I apologize…
    But in the spirit of telling the truth, I feel I must…
    I am just sooo tired of people close to me deciding they want to do what I do, instead of buying my work, & helping me out financially…

  10. Sue says:

    I can’t remember when it was I began to call myself an artist and really mean it, but it hasn’t been all that long ago…like within the last five years…though I’ve been creative all my life. My parents wanted me to be a writer/english teacher/do something with words. I had a way with words and still do, but it’s not my first love or passion. Within the last year I’ve been able to see that the mandala art I create brings joy and soothing and inspiration and healing to people’s lives. It has been within the last couple of months that I have started to call myself a healer as well. This is powerful stuff for me, as I am truly embracing the life I believe I was called to live this time around. For me, what I want is to be my best True Self, let go of the facades and stories and masks that have kept me safe for over 50 years. It’s an exciting time. And it’s a day at a time proposition, as life continues to ask me “what are you willing to do for your art?”
    Ariane, I appreciate your willingness to be as transparent as you have been for the world to see. Takes guts, I think. Gives us a little inspiration too.
    (P.S. A little off topic, but wanted to share I had my first gallery show in May. I too am an introvert and had been afraid of being exposed to all that up in my face energy out in the real world, and I am happy to report I had a great time and sold some of my art to boot!!)

  11. Marie says:

    For me, your post went straight to my heart.

    Being an artist for me is first, a calling, a way of seeing and understanding the world in terms of meaning, color, movement. Second it is about expressing my understanding and viewpoint in words, colors, shapes in whatever media that expresses them best.

    Despite this I have spent a considerable amount of energy and time to battle myself onto another path, managing at the same time to become a professional artist.

    I think what is left at this point of my battle is the self-judgement: “I’m not an artist because I paint animals instead of serious contemporary art.”

    So I hear what you are saying, Ariane, and thank you for it.


  12. Oh, Sari, my good woman. No, I am not getting ready to compete in your world of art.

    I am not an artist. as in painter, sculptor, jeweler, potter, etc. I am an artist in the sense of having an artistic soul where I must create – it’s not a choice.

    My creations are entrepreneurial and written. I live and breathe creativity and seek it out wherever I am.

    It’s the creative process that engages the whole of me, and my passion for adding to the creative fire in the world.

    That said, in truth no one is competing with you for only you can do what you do. And why would you deny another human spirit from fulfilling themselves creatively just because you have known then in another identity. Maybe they have truly been visual artists and are finally coming out of the closet.

    Your best allies in the art world are other artists.

    And Jake, good – I was really going for amused over offended.

    Sue – my goodness! Send all the exhibit info over to marta@smartist.com and we’ll write you up on Tuesday’s Bragging Rights! Yay! One of the perks of being a smARTist Telesummit alumni is you brag, we post!

    And thank you, Marie, for reading the post as I intended it – though I have to say, I love the controversy it’s stirred up, yes?

  13. Sari says:

    Ugh…I love you…

  14. Marie says:

    Ariane, you are a brave woman and I will take this opportunity to learn from your reaction to stirring up controversy. Mine is to run and hide. :-D But I’m using this moment to be fascinated instead.

  15. Couple of things. Ellen Lane, it’s certainly possible for artists to be old. I guess I didn’t like that woman to begin with. One bad thing that artists must try to avoid is being cocky. Yes we look at the world differently than most people, but that doesn’t make us the expert. I think it’s important for artists to stay humble. Someone who paints little + someone who says she’s an artisht and gives you her almighty opinion by which everything else is judged = someone I can’t stand. Then again, I’m opinionated too; something I need to work on.

    Yes, artists should be grateful that they’re artists. It’s a curse and a blessing at the same time, but let’s focus on the bright side. I’m thankful I’m an artist. But I don’t waltz around saying “Hey! I’m an artist.”

    Ariane, I’m not sure what comment module you’re using, but I would humbly submit to you it’s time for an upgrade. When just one or two people are tapping around this works fine, but not with 10+ people. Responding to individuals would be really nice; that way they don’t have to read every single comment to see if someone’s talking to them.

  16. Martyn, goodness, yes – time to upgrade for sure. Thanks so much for pointing that out. This blog has never been utilized as it was originally intended until recently, so 10+ comments is in itself humbling and much welcomed. I’ve send your comment onto my rockin’ web master – but, do you have a recommendation?

  17. Actually, you have control yourself on the comment system. The Thesis default style of comments which you can see at my blog allows people to “reply” to individuals. If you’re looking for a popular module though, Disqus offers lots of features. Chris Brogan uses that. Unfortunately, when you install Disqus it won’t import pre-existing comments, so it’s hard to switch over when you’ve got an established blog. So then there’s IntenseDebate. It’s developed by the same people that make WordPress, and I like it too.

    • There you go! Thanks for the extra tips – extremely thoughtful of you, and my web designer was already on it. Thank you so much for taking the time to a) notice and b) alert me.
      What would I do without you?

      And I also hope, by now, that you understand my viewpoint of artists is anything but negative, yes?

  18. Christine says:

    How’s this for being a living, breathing stereotypical “artist type”, and still having trouble naming yourself by your calling?

    My hair isn’t orange – it’s pink – I do have a nose piercing, and I love to wear handmade fashions. :oP

    I am a painter, an illustrator, a photographer, a graphic designer, a crafter, and constant doodler… yet I have such a mental block to labelling myself as an artist. My business card reads “owner/operator”, which actually saddens me a wee bit.

    When someone asks what I do, I have difficulty saying “I’m an artist”, for fear that they will scoff at me, or will not take me seriously. I usually reply with “I own a small business”.

    I’m so afraid of labelling myself, that I dilute what it is I do down to “creative stuff – mostly to do with visual art.” Yes, I have met with prejudiced reactions in the past, and there are plenty of preconceived notions that come along with calling yourself an artist… but I know that I should not allow those experiences to colour my behaviour, and yet, I do.

    Strange little boxes that we put ourselves in, aren’t they?

    • Well, Christine, I owe you a HUGE thanks! (and a virtual smOOch!)

      You’ve just vindicated me – ever so slightly – and the tongue-in-cheek description I was using to make the exact same point you’ve been brave enough to bring here into virtual broad daylight. (Well, heck, no sense in being stingy. For this you deserve 2 smOOches, a hug – and more… keep reading!)

      One idea I have is this: write up ONE (yup, only 1) descriptive sentence about the core of why you do all those creative forms of expression.

      You’ll be amazed at how brave it makes you feel to know you can speak clearly and powerfully about your art.

      Who knows – doing this exercise might even inspire you to name yourself as you most truly are!

      Here’s how to create a descriptive sentence of your work:
      1. Write a list of the 4 most important ideas you want to express to the viewer through your artwork.

      2.List several words that accurately describe your artwork. (Hint: these are not hyped up adjectives like: gorgeous, bold, unique, sacred, beautiful, soulful, etc.)

      Combine these lists and ideas together into one sentence about your work that is easy to memorize, and “paints” a clear picture of your artwork.

      3. After completing the statement, memorize it and tell it to at least 5 people, using the feedback you get to improve your message.

      Here are 2 examples:
      Example: I create paintings and works on paper based on photographs from my family album.

      Example: I create hand-tinted photographs based on imaginary landscapes.

      Then come back here and let me know how it went, okay?

  19. Tash says:

    I am an artist. I tried going professional for a year after I graduated from Uni but realised the middle of a recession was perhaps not the best time to start out. Just because I’m not professional at the moment because I need money, does not make me any less of an artist. To me when people say ‘oh, so it’s a hobby’ it really irritates me. Having art as hobby is when you just do it for fun – to paint something pretty. Being an artist is when art IS you. You don’t want to paint – you need to paint

    Some people may say I dress a bit weirdly.. I call it preppy with a vintage twist… If ‘weird’ means not wearing tracksuits and trainers or a suit, then I guess that classifies me as weird.

    I’m mainly nocturnal, which again I suppose fits me into the stereotype of weird artist type person.

    I don’t mind telling people I’m an artist. If they want to believe that makes me a wildly interesting person that’s fine by me, but it’s not really all that interesting. They go to an office, drink a lot of coffee and have air conditioning; I go to a shed, drink a lot of coffee and freeze my arse off in winter.

    I don’t like it when people ask me what kind of art I do. I don’t know how to categorise it – everything I do is completely different, and that’s how I like it. These days I just hand them a business card and say ‘look at my website – the paintings will explain themselves much better than I could explain them’

    • Tash,
      I was born with weird hard-wired into me. I always think someone has just handed me a giant-sized compliment when they call me kookie or weird – it’s like an identity that I can identify with :)

      I do want to, however, gently challenge you to reconsider your resistance to speaking about your art. Some would say it’s a lazy out to expect the artwork to do all of the heavy lifting by itself.

      We are all hard wired for language, and language offers you another way to bond with potential collectors. Turning your back on another layer of connection doesn’t benefit you, your art or your collectors.

      Why not give the “descriptive sentence” exercise above a try and see what happens. You might surprise yourself.

      Or, if that doesn’t work, just keep a notebook by your side as you work and jot down any random thoughts that fly across your mind as you work. I’m betting you are way more interesting than you’ve been intentionally paying attention to.

      Just a thought…

  20. Cynthia says:

    I love this topic! Thanks Ariane!

    I am an artist and that is a GIVEN. At this point in my life and career phase I am so comfortable saying it.
    However I must admit there were many times in the past that saying ‘I am an artist’ depends on who I am talking to. It has been always known since time immemorial that the word artist is synonymous to “starving artist”. But then as I grew and developed my craft and earned my livelihood through that, I am proud to say I AM AN ARTIST. And discovered that Starving Artist is a myth, a hearsay! I do a lot of fine art but my passion now is textile designing. So my response when people ask me that question, I ‘d say ” I am a Textile Designer”. Then I get to intrigue them a little more and engage them to further inquiries! A more commercial route I suppose . I actually recently printed my designs into postcards and greeting cards! I am gonna BRAG that they are looking good! I will be happy to mail you a couple Ariane. Meantime if you don’t mind I will email you a few and maybe you could post it in your blog.:D I will be happy to be labeled: Textile Designer. Well that’s still an artist isn’t it? :D

  21. Pam Lacey says:

    I am an artist. And yes, I do have orange hair. Okay, my stylist and I refer to it as red. And it’s lovely. :-) No nose piercing though, mostly because I’m afraid of needles. hehehehehe

    So let’s change it from “I am an artist…really?” to “I am an artist. REALLY!”

    Glad to have found your blog and site. Will there be a 2011 Telesummit? If so, when?

  22. Hi Pam! Glad to have you here. I like the new title, as that’s the whole point, yes?

    And you betcha there’s going to be a 2011 smARTist Telesumit. Year Five!

    You can get on the Advance Discount List here: http://smartist.com/live-telesummit/2011-2/

  23. […] write about your art, not leave the whole weight up to the work itself (read the whole thing here: http://smartistcareerblog.com/2010/06/i-am-an-artist-really/#comments ). So I thought I would try, here in my own blog, to muse a little on how this painting came to […]

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