I’ve run into quite a few people lately who claim that they are *not* artists or, at least, not yet or not really. In each situation, we were either working on art together or looking at artwork that they created. What’s up with that?
The short answer if fear: fear of being judged, fear of making a fool of themselves, fear of taking themselves too seriously, fear of seeming pretentious, fear of making “bad” art–even fear of having to make more art. I know. I’ve been there. I question myself every day of my life, but at some point, you have to own it.
Who is an artist?
According to the IRS, you cannot claim expenses on art supplies if you don’t show a profit in three years. At that point, art is deemed a “hobby” and not a “profession.” Hobbies are not respected; nor are they tax-deductable unless your hobby happens to be gambling. Unfortunatley, many people in the U.S. subscribe to IRS definition of artists. I tend to disagree: there are many people whom I consider artists that the IRS would designate as hobbyists, Van Gogh among them. While financial gain in your lifetime is wonderful, it doesn’t make or break you as an artist. Only you can do that. And so many artists do break themselves, either by not making art, or making art and not calling it art. Acts of self-sabotage are so rampant among the profession, that I have to come to the conclusion that being an artist takes a supreme act of courage or at least chutzpah or maybe a lot of both. Talent, doesn’t figure into it. There are plenty of people with lots of talent who don’t make art. Neither does art school. Plenty of people go to art school and don’t make art either.
How to be an artist
The artistic process is summarized perfectly in a flowchart developed by Kate Holden and published in Gwarlingo:
While somebody with a modicom of computer programming knowledge would draw the flowchart differently (I have done it in my head), it would not be as good. In this case, art supercedes science in getting the point across, which is the whole point really.
Say it out loud
After going through a few cycles depicted in the flowchart, it is time to say it out loud in the mirror, and then in in front of other people: “Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am an artist.” Get business cards printed. Set up a website, create an artist board on Pinterest and a page on Facebook…whatever it takes to “fake it until you make it,” as the saying goes. To my mind, you are not an artist if you don’t call yourself one. According to my calculations, which is the only metric that matters, I have earned my seven-year chip for being an artist.
Intent is everything
The other quagmire that potential artists struggle with is the question of “what is art?” If you must go there, follow this simple rule: When you present something as art, it’s art. In other words, a cigar is just a cigar unless you mount it and give it a title, like “Cigar” or “This is not a cigar” or “Untitled”. The presentation declares your intent to the viewer. What the viewer makes of it is up to them. In this case, presentation is essential; in most cases, presentation counts for quite a lot.
Presentation presumes that you show your art to other people. Whether you show your art in a museum or gallery or on a wall in a nail salon, it is art. While you will be rejected or accepted by any establishment or institution, only you can make your art, art. And only you can stop making art. It’s a choice; it’s a commitment. It’s as simple and hard as that. As for me, I’m taking it one day at a time.