My Blog Journal


Relativity of Truth, Art, Money, and Suffering

Who Deserves To Be Called an Artist?

This question has been asked by established and aspiring artists, and by people who wouldn’t consider themselves artists, repeatedly throughout history, most likely since the beginning of time…
Or the beginning of art. Whichever came first.

“Is it too easy for anyone to call themselves an artist?” ~ J.P. (owner/artist)

This question was recently published on LinkedIn, the “professional” networking website, which I usually avoid to preserve my insanity.
However, I was lured into this discussion and the answers which were given to J.P. had my fur raised with equal parts amusement and objectivism.

Granted, on an open forum, we are subjected to many varied opinions, and it is our responsibility, as individuals, to determine where our own values lie on the spectrum.

Truth is relative.

I have wrestled for years with my own truth; how I view myself, my fellow artists/creators, and the “art world” online and offline. My own opinion was formed after a long period of burying my head in the sand, because self-doubt inhibited me from answering these questions.

I feel ready to speak with my own voice now.

Art Business Specialist M.H. wonders whether material things (such as jewelry), which are “artistically and creatively designed”, can be considered the work of an artist? “Or is that person better categorized as a designer?”

That question amused me because I consider designers and artists to be the same creature, albeit different in color.
Designing is a creative skill, just like painting in oils or watercolors, or sculpting, or blowing glass. Why should there be restrictive labels for creative people, such as to imply that one form of art is “less than” another form.

Some painters and illustrators are also talented designers, and some are not. Some designers cannot paint a human form if their lives depended on it, but give them another tool, and they will create beautiful three-dimensional pieces in cloth, wood, or stone.

Call them a “jewelry artist” or “sculpture artist”, or call them a “maker”, “creator”, or “architect”, or simply call them by name:
“Beth makes the most exquisite pieces using found rocks intricately woven with copper wire”.

If you bring something new into this world, that previously existed only in your mind, you are an artist.

Art is relative.

As if in answer to my thought, architect M.B. wrote,

“As long as everything and anything can be called “art”, everyone is an artist. There are schools that teach ‘self expression’ and not the basic fundamentals of art (or the students are not learning it).
There are self taught ‘artists’ that have a poor teacher.”

Well, I consider myself a self-taught artist with NO teacher! LOL
That is not altogether true, because the world itself can be an excellent teacher to anyone who is observant and willing to learn.

But I’m curious, having never been taught in an “art school”…. what are the basic fundamentals of art?

Figure drawing? Light and shadow? Spacial perception?

What about paint-splattering abstract art, and those squiggly lines that look completely random?

So just to be a smarty-pants, I Googled “Fundamentals of Art” and was directed to this comprehensive article written by Matt Fussell, a licensed high school art teacher.

Great! A lesson from a real art teacher. :)

So read carefully, folks.
The Fundamentals of Art are as follows:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Value
  • Space
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Balance
  • Proportion
  • Unity
  • Harmony
  • Variety
  • Emphasis
  • Rhythm
  • Movement
  • Composition
  • Contrast
  • Dominance
  • Content
  • Implementation
  • Aesthetics
  • Art criticism
  • Symbolism

Wow! With such a broad list of qualifications, just about anything could be considered art!
Right, M.B.? ;)

The view I have come to embrace concerning artists, and makers, dreamers, and doers, is that if you feel passionately about creating something that is uniquely yours and sharing it with others, than that is what you must do.
Don’t concern yourself with man-made titles and privileges, and never let anyone tell you that you aren’t worthy to call yourself “an artist” simply because you didn’t follow steps A through G.
Or your work lacked one of the “fundamentals” listed above.

Money is Relative.

The bulk of the conversation on LinkedIn tended to revolve around professional artists who market and sell their work, versus artists who create for themselves, or have few business skills or web savvy.

If you are unable sell your work successfully, are you an artist or not?

Self-titled artist, K.S., believes that “if you have another job to subsidise your art, than you can only call yourself a part-time artist (hobbyist). I do not believe you can do a full time job and be an artist…”

As someone who once held a full-time job, AND a part-time job, and TWO full-time jobs, and then NO job (except as a mother, which many will say IS a full-time job)…. Whew!….
I would never want to be identified solely based upon “my job”.

I am not merely a cake decorator, or a sales clerk, or a grocery manager, or a cashier. And I am not just the mother of three children. I AM ALL OF THAT, and so much more.

Being an artist is something you are, not something you do for a living. You can make a living as an artist, but how much art you sell should never determine your actual worth. Everyone knows that VanGogh was broke, and only sold one painting during his lifetime.

“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”
~ VanGogh

Pity he didn’t have Twitter and Instagram.

How much money does it take to be considered an artist? What would you consider to be “full-time” versus “part-time” pay?

A CEO’s bonus check might equal an entire year’s salary for many people.
If you can live frugally, you can certainly support yourself on $500 per month in art sales (if you live mortgage/rent free, grow/make your own food, forgo driving a car, and conserve resources to keep utilities low).

However, if you desire material things and creature comforts, live in an expensive city, or find yourself in debt, you will obviously need more than $500 each month, and will most likely be working your butt off in a real “profession” to stay afloat.

But does that make you less of an artist than the person who requires less money to get by?
Not in my opinion.

Art is a passion, not just a profession.

If you aren’t supporting yourself with art sales alone, you are still an artist if you choose to embrace your inner voice and express yourself creatively. If you need to pump gas, or flip burgers, to pay your rent… go ahead!
Work without shame, so long as you continue to give to the world what it really needs most – your passion!

My favorite inspirational quote is from author/civil rights leader, Dr. Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

He wrote many inspiring things, so check him out if you haven’t already!

Time is Relative.

Artist K.S. continues with,
“Being able to think art 24 hours a day gives you and your work a maturity that is not possible when you are part-time.”

If you “think art 24 hours a day”, you are obsessed, and that is certainly passion!

Nonetheless, I do not believe it makes your work any more “mature” or professional than the artist who creates for 8-10 hours each day, or even 4-5 hours each day, and who still manages to find time for other hobbies and most importantly, connecting with family and peers.

I like to paint cats, some might say I am obsessed with cats (although we recently adopted a DOG!), but painting cats is not the total of who I am, just as cake decorating or managing a retail outlet did not define me.

I paint cats, I read British literature, I bake pumpkin spice cookies, I love to plant bulbs, I home-school my daughter, I blog about stuff, I play the piano and video-games, I sing and act, and I have a dirty and often morbid sense of humor.

I do not think about art 24 hours a day.

I would encourage people of any profession to insert their own job-title into that sentence:
“Being able to think […teaching/accounting/landscaping/computer-programming/flipping hamburgers…] 24 hours a day gives you and your work maturity that is not possible when you are part-time.”

Do you agree with that statement?
If working 24 hours a day is the gold standard, wouldn’t everybody be working part-time? ;)

I assume you sleep, too, and dreaming (about art or anything else) only accounts for 20% of your nocturnal brain activity.

Personally, if I thought about art to the exclusion of everything else, I would be a miserable suffering person. Ah yes, but isn’t that what art is all about? Artists are supposed to suffer for their craft.

Suffering is Relative.

What you consider to be suffering might be a normal way of life to me, and vise versa.

The two examples above might each consider the alternative lifestyle to be fraught with suffering.

The guy who lives on $500 per month might consider a more lavish mode of living to be entirely too stressful: why lie awake all night worrying about debt, foreclosure, and bankruptcy? Spending hours suffering a commute to work in the city?
Wondering if his wife is cheating on him? Afraid his boss wants to fire him? And his children are expelled from their private school for smoking weed?

Likewise, someone accustomed to all the comforts money can buy might consider a rural way of life to be torturous.
No wi-fi connection or cable television? No gym memberships or dinner reservations? Can’t afford a cruise vacation or weekend in Vegas?
You mean, I have to pull the carrots from the ground in order to make this salad?!

I was teased an bullied as a child because I was weird.
I’ve been divorced. I’ve lost family members. I’ve known failure.
I’ve been twice diagnosed with depression.
Some might call that suffering, but I choose not to see it that way.

It is just my story, a part of who I am.

Some people believe that you can’t become a true artist until you’ve “matured” and suffered.
College students fresh from their parents’ protective nest can’t possibly understand real suffering, and aren’t yet mature enough to produce real art.

Bless his heart, K.S. shares his opinion again,

“There is alot of bad art…mostly done by art students who have not matured yet. We are living in a time when everyone wants to be famous by the time they are 30.”

And outreach/publications professional S.B. agrees,
“…some amateurs take their efforts to the world stage and try to make a buck from their ‘happy accident’, which
irritates professional artists… who have put in the time and effort to have achieved some level of hard-won expertise.
Amateur work will absolutely bring down the integral ‘spirit’ of an art exhibit..”

(and she goes on to discuss the necessity of juried shows)

Amateurs who call themselves “artists” and immature art students are apparently ruining art for everyone.
And why is this?

Because they are young?
Because they aren’t suffering enough?
They aren’t living and breathing their art 24 hours a day?
They aren’t making a six-figure salary selling their work…?
Or perhaps they ARE… because they understand social networking, and therefore can convince thousands of people to purchase their ‘bad art’ simply by Tweeting about it?

When did the community of artists become a closed circle of snobs?
Like elitist country club members or a secret society with “rules” and “rites of passage” to prove yourself worthy of joining.

I wonder if VanGogh were alive today, whether he would be allowed to call himself a real artist.

If not, I would encourage him to join my non-discriminatory club of self-proclaimed “artists” who create with passion, in defiance of rules, fundamentals, and art snobs.

Suffer to come as you are.

Be an artist!

I Double Dog Dare you! :)

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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