Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Artist

Do you think of yourself as an artist?

I think about this question frequently. Today was not an art day for me. I did legal work for most of the day, with a break to go orchestrate an early Chinese New Year lesson and celebration in Caroline's classroom. This afternoon, as I was sitting at my computer trying to make sense of a hefty document in front of me, I glanced at my design wall (which is next to my computer area) and felt a pulse of frustration at not being able to work on my current piece.

But then it occurred to me that I'm very glad I don't have to worry about making art to make money. From my friends who do art for their livings, I hear a great deal about the stress of having to produce sale-able work, figuring out what people will buy, assessing the right price for pieces... topics like that. And I remember all too well that once I started teaching classes on making artist books, the joy of making books got lost in the business of making class samples, breaking things down into teachable steps, figuring out how to make reasonably- priced editions of books...all that same business stuff. I actually do like the legal work I do, quite a bit. It's intellectually very challenging and sometimes even fun. And I make very good money for someone who is able to sit at home and work in a bathrobe and fuzzy socks when I feel like it.

I'm glad that my art isn't my livelihood. But do I wish I had more time to work on it? You bet. And I can't help feel that I'm not a "real artist."

It's not that I think that putting a price on pieces and selling them is a necessary requirement to being an artist. So what DOES make an artist? A commitment to the creative process, I'd say, for one thing. A willingness to explore an idea through creative expression, also. But what else? Does it have something to do with how much time you spend on art? You're an artist if you do it frequently, and a dabbler if you don't? Are you an artist if your work isn't good? (or does that mean you're just a bad artist?)

I know several people who have very strong self-perceptions as artists. They're not the least bit equivocal or shy about calling themselves artists; in fact, they're quite assertive about it. I've noticed that this is true with some people regardless of their level of productivity, talent, or originality. And I know others who have more artistic talent in one fingernail clipping than others will see in their lifetimes, and they're embarrassed to call themselves artists.

I guess to me, "artist" has some value judgment in it. It's the difference between saying "quilter" and "quilt artist." A quilter makes quilts, regardless of how good they are...but when I hear someone call themselves a "quilt artist," I expect something good.

So I'm not entirely comfortable calling myself an artist, although I do so more than I used to. But the twinge I feel inside when I do makes me think about this stuff.

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