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.

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