“Every artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think most of us have thought it at one time or another. Can I really call myself an artist? The word “artist” brings such interesting connotations with it. When most people hear the word “artist”, they think of famous artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe, just to name a few.
We think that until we have mastered a skill, or created a style, or sold a big piece, we can’t really call ourselves an artist. Why is that?
Art is personal
There are a few reasons for this, but I think it begins with the fact that art is such a profound act of personal expression. When we create our work, we are creating something that may be meaningful or beautiful to us, but we worry that the world, or even worse, our peers, won’t think the same.
Or we create something we think is crap so we don’t put it out there, only to realize, the world loves it! Art often has an emotional response attached to it as much for the artist as for the viewer.
It’s a very vulnerable place to be and for most artists, it takes a lot of guts to put their work out there to be examined and critiqued and in some cases, literally judged.
I tell my students all the time, if you create art, you are an artist. You may not be a professional artist, you may not be a master artist, but you are in fact, an artist. And the more you tell yourself that, the more you will create, and the more you create, the better you will become and the better you become, the more you will tell yourself, you are an artist!
The Struggle Is Real
Up until the past few years, I was mainly a decorative artist and quilter. I’ve wanted to be a fine artist but like so many others, I didn’t have the background or skills to create fine art and “brushed” it aside. I loved working with textiles and glass and created some beautiful work but I still wanted to be able to work on canvas like a “real fine artist”.
Several years ago, I started taking more fine art workshops, practicing a little and working on my skills. I used paint and mixed media and began creating some fun pieces that I liked.
What I have learned the most in this process, is not only am I an artist, no matter what the medium, but that I really love mixed media. I love shaking it up and working with lots of different elements. And I would never have gotten here if I hadn’t looked at myself as an artist to begin with and shifted my thinking.
Develop Your Skills With Reckless Abandon
One day last year, I was feeling very overwhelmed with the demands on my time and the lack of time to be more creative. I went into my studio, turned on my favorite instrumental music and pulled out a blank canvas. I desperately needed to create something and I only had a couple of hours.
I decided to use some of the skills I learned in Ellie McIntosh’s Intuitive Painting Workshop, and just start with randomness, using paintbrushes and foam applicators, moving from warm colors to cool colors. I added a piece of drywall tape for texture and interest, decided to stencil some Wood Icing through a stencil to create an upward moving vine and just see what happened.
There were times I closed my eyes and just let the paintbrush strokes go with the music. There were a couple of times when I rotated the canvas so the paint strokes wouldn’t have a definite direction. As I painted and stepped back, I realized the piece was telling this story of my need for creative time so I could grow, not only as an artist but as a person, spiritually and emotionally.
I saw the vine going up to the sky, the cross that emerged on its own and the blood, sweat, and tears I’d been putting into everything in my life, hoping it was enough. My emotions were literally jumping off the canvas.
When I stepped back at the end, I thought it needed one more thing. I added a single, green brushstroke that represented me becoming a better artist and as a reminder to just begin with a single step. Just like everything else in life.
This piece was unlike anything I’d ever done before and it was definitely the most personal piece I’d ever done. It tells a deep, connected story of my need for time to grow, create and be the person I am supposed to be. I titled it, “Leave Me Be So I Can Grow”.
Create No Matter What
I was amazed at what came off the canvas that day. I realized as I looked at it, I could feel the part of me that is a skilled artist and I didn’t care what anyone else thought about this seemingly random, abstract piece. I loved it.
I decided to enter it into a juried show and to my surprise, it was accepted. It didn’t win any awards or sell, and that was fine with me. I really wanted to keep it as a reminder that yes, I am an artist, and I need to find that time to keep creating so I can keep growing.
Putting our work out there and boldly calling ourselves artists, is only part of the story. The real story lies within. It doesn’t matter what medium you work in or how good you are.
When we can stand in confidence and know that we are creative people with stories to tell, we can confidently call ourselves artists. The world doesn’t have to love it or even like it.
It is said, that Vincent Van Gogh only sold one, maybe two, paintings in his lifetime. He led a tortured, poor life, creating thousands of works of art, never to be truly appreciated until after his death. You can read more about his life and work here.
He created no matter what.
What About You?
What makes you feel confident in calling yourself an artist? What special projects or pieces have you created that inspired you and made you feel like a creative storyteller? Or maybe they evoked a sense of happiness, sadness or relief at being able to express yourself. I’d love to hear your stories.
The world may be slow to catch up or lack appreciation for your work at times. Don’t let that stop you. Keep creating. Keep telling stories. And by all means…….keep calling yourself an artist!
Until next time….
Hope you’re out there creating something you love!!