Monday, September 19, 2011

How do you earn the title of "artist"?

Rembrandt - Artist in his studio (1633)
(pen and ink)
This is a simple question with no suggested answers - and probably no one right answer either.  However I have included a few prompts by way of related questions.

Do let me know what you think.  

I've used numbers for the prompts so that it makes it easier for people to reference which point they're responding to.

How do you earn the title of "artist"?
  1. Is "artist" a title or a description - and what's the difference?
  2. Are you an "artist" just because you say so?
  3. Do you have to earn the title "artist?
  4. What entitles you to call yourself an "artist"? 
  5. Do you have to learn to be an "artist"?
  6. Do you need to be skilled to be called an "artist"?
  7. Do you need training to be an "artist" (just as a doctor or lawyer do before they're entitled to claim their titles)?
  8. Do you need to sell your work to be an "artist"?
  9. Do you need to be a professional full-time artist to be able to call yourself an artist?  Does "artist" ever need to be qualified by terms such as professional, semi-professional and amateur?
  10. Do you need external validation to justify calling yourself an "artist?
  11. How do you know an "artist" when you see one?
  12. What makes an "artist" different to everybody else?


Unknown said...

This is one question where the answers will rise exponentially to the number of commenters.
From my own perspective an 'artist ' is a state of creative mind. I think the only requirement is that the person creates in which medium the enjoy and under their own direction. They can be influenced but the decisions on how to apply their craft is theirs alone.

What others decide to call you from artist to hack is their choice and it comes from how they see the world which may not be the same as you.

This diversity is what make art great, unique and challenging at times.

Niels Henriksen

Peter said...

any person or animal that creates is an artist , its up to the individual to decide whether they like it . we would all be better of with more artists than fighters . great artists are so precious to the world , they inspire legions of imitators an wannabees , god bless them all .

Ilaria said...

How funny, I was just writing this on my blog:

a feeling of being part of a group: at the preview of last year's BP Portrait Award I was given a pin with the word "artist" to wear on my shirt, it felt to me like some sort of official graduation, if the NPG says so...

Anyway I think the word is abused, it seems to have been extended to all sorts of activities.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Ilaria - that was indeed one of the reasons I wrote the post.

I'm getting very fed up using "artist" as a search term and turning up all sorts of results which in my eyes are not in the least bit what I mean by "artist"!

Unknown said...

I was just pondering how I could get over the mental block I have of not thinking of myself as a 'real' artist. I believe I need to get over this to move forward. So upon reading your post I would say you are an artist when you think you are - and what the world thinks is largely irrelevant.

Casey Klahn said...

"The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.' " Edgar Allen Poe.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Casey - I've not heard that one before.

Unknown said...

Being an artist was all I wanted to be. The time passed and for almost 40 years I still feel the same entusiasm and joy when I am creating.

Colours and Textures said...

When my niece was junior school age she said 'when I grow up I want to be an artist like you' When I was her age I said I wanted to be a teacher. Now I paint and I teach.
wiki on 'artist' is interesting. Of the definitions quoted which I think has some mileage is from the OED 'One who makes their craft a fine art' although that in turn begs the question 'what is fine art?'
I take this to mean someone whose work has moved beyond the basic technical craft or skills of
painting to produce works that have some thing unique to them or'soul'
But then I would probably describe a young child's painting as art. Definitions can be slippery eels.

Making A Mark said...

Definitions are indeed a slippery thing.

Do we call everybody who ever painted a painting an artist?

Vicki Lee Johnston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sadami said...

Dear Kath,
The answer stands between subjectivity and objectivity, which also implies individual identity. Thus, in my view, no clear cut answer. Thank you for the interesting Q.
Kind regards,Sadami

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Sadami.

The purpose of asking the question was to illustrate how, for some, there is no clear cut answer whereas for others they don't quite see it that way - and they do have an answer.

It's about expanding our horizons and mutual appreciation of how we think about "artists"

B. J. Adams Art said...

When someone asks, "What do you do?", I have no other answer.
B. J. Adams

RH Carpenter said...

Sticky subject but since it's just my opinion, I do believe an artist works at their art - studies, learns, practices, takes lessons or workshops or whatever (not necessarily has an art degree). Having viewed two local art shows recently I can say that, for every 50 paintings on show, there are probably 2/3 of the participants who are artists.

Unknown said...

Cool answer BJ :)

ScottWms said...

I think the term "artist" is rather meaningless. It's overused across many disparate activities, plus it's been adopted by too many people of varying abilities. It has lost it's cachet. The use of "artist" seems to only have relevance when listed on tax forms or census reports as an occupation. Otherwise it has grown to have too broad a definition and application.

Another overused and meaningless term: "self-taught"

Making A Mark said...

I'm inclined to agree with you. There is a notion that "Artist" is a term which encompasses anybody who creates art - which, in theory means everything from 5 year old finger painters to Rembrandt.

The use of a particular word is only meaningful to all who read it or hear it if it conveys the same meaning to all - otherwise it can be a source of confusion.

Surely there should be a better way of describing people who make art?

Must "artist" always have a qualifying prefix to make it meaningful in terms of the meaningful differentiation which exists in reality?

For example - I understand what is meant by:
* "famous artist" - somebody who has become well known for their artistic endeavours
* "hobby artist" - somebody who pursues art as a leisure activity

However I'm not sure the prefix always resolves the problem.

For example, I'm not quite sure we all share a common understanding of a "practising artist".

ScottWms said...

Katherine, I think you're exactly right. The term "artist" has become too nebulous in meaning and requires a prefix--visual artist, fine artist, commercial artist, culinary artist, performing artist etc. When someone tells me they are an "artist" I usually wince. Perhaps it's better for practitioners to describe themselves as painters, sculptors, draftsmen, actors, chefs, or musicians. More precision and less hubris.

MG said...

You are not an artist until other "artists" recognize you as one and know you as one. When they start to look to your work for inspiration, call upon you to critique theirs, seek you out to teach, to exhibit, to publish and to participate in the greater community of artists.

I can call myself a doctor or lawyer, but until the professional bodies issuing license recognizes me as one I am no more a doctor than Hugh Lorie.

In the absence of an official body recognizing artists or issuing licenses the community as a whole judges who belongs amongst its ranks. When it sees you or I as a peer, as an artist, then we know we have become one.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Scott - I think I'm in agreement with what you say.

For me 'Artist" as a word - on its own - seems to have become blurred in its meaning due to overuse and sometimes inappropriate use

Making A Mark said...

Good point MG!

Accreditation via the views of your peers is certainly one way of earning a title.

sherriejd said...

I find it interesting that we need to place labels on people. For what purpose? Does it matter if my neighbor calls herself an artist and she has never had official training? Who am I to judge what an "official" artist is? What qualifies a person to make those distinctions? Only the Fine Arts educated?

Making A Mark said...

Well I guess one of the reasons is that we place labels on everybody else in relation to the occupation they have.

Everybody can kick a football around - but on the whole we tend to refer to those who do it seriously as a career and make serious money from it as "professional footballers"

Hence my question about whether the term "artist" only makes sense when used with a prefix - because without it, the term loses any meaning other than "person making art" - and as we all agree anybody can do that.

I don't think there's any sense of the only people who qualify as artists are people with degrees in fine art.

However I do like a "signal" in relation to any occupation (eg doctor) which tells me that somebody has worked and studied hard and achieved a certain level of work to get where they are today.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons why we tend to hear so much about people's art education and classes they've taken etc is because we don't have a term which differentiates between those who have worked at it and those who picked up a paint brush last week.

I'm a qualified accountant and a qualified teacher - and that's all I need to say for people to know what this means. I don't need to say where I trained or anything specific as to which course I did. There is a 'bar' and I met it - and that's it.

There is nothing similar that relates to art - and please understand I'm not advocating there should be.

However somewhere along the way we've lost a way of describing those who, in my view, do deserve some sort of title because of the level of effort they have employed over the years in relation to understanding and creating art and the achievements they've made as a result.

I don't know what that is - but IMO I don't think "artist" is it (unless, like Ilaria, you're in a reception at a national art gallery for an exhibition and the rest of the people there are the art critics and the bankers or whoever sponsored the exhibition! That's when being an 'artist' really does mean something!) :)

Bobbie said...

Such snobberish comments from a few. I have never questioned the "credentials" of my art teachers, ie where they learned what they are teaching. I am only grateful that they inspire a room full that have sought them out to teach. When a two year old picks up their first color, I proudly exclaim what an artist they are!

sherriejd said...

My thought is, when I buy a piece of work that I like, I don't stop to question whether or not the "creator" has worked 50 years at his craft or whether he has formal education and is deemed qualified to create something that moves me. I look at piece of art and it moves me. And it moves me to buy it.

So if the creator feels he needs the title of "Artist" to be validated, then it is the "creator" that requires the labeling. Not me as the customer that appreciates the work of beauty. If the "real" artists out there are threatened by someone they deem less qualified to wear the monniker, then perhaps they are the ones needing the validation?

art is so subjective, so to suggest that an artist has to pass a certain level of certification or rites of passage is very exclusionary and somewhat disturbing. I would hate to think that someone told Grandma Moses that she was not an artist because she started in her late years and didn't have the right credentials to be one. But then again, she wouldn't have cared.

Making A Mark said...

Hmm - maybe it's time for a recap.

I think we agree the term "artist" can and is used to describe everybody from the small child picking up a brush for the first time all the way through to Rembrandt.

As such it means art now has no term to offer the person who commits to making a living from creating art or those who have acquired an excellent skill level in the making of their art and/or had some success in terms of people wanting to buy their art.

A long time ago - hundreds of years ago - before an artist became an artist and set up their own studio, they committed themselves to a process of apprenticeship. Most of the artists from the past who today we call "famous artists" went through some form of apprenticeship or process of study.

In some countries they had a guild - and that was the process for earning the title of 'artist'. To join the guild and to officially become known as an artist of that guild, you needed to be able to demonstrate that you had reached a certain level of skill or workmanship. In other words you earned your credentials as a guild member.

Today - and in some ways I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this - we have art societies. To become a signature member you have to 'pass' whatever 'test' the society devises to maintain what it sets as its standards. (There is, incidentally, nothing which says that all societies have to commit to the same standard)

Signature status is then something which is typically recognised by galleries and the like as something which offers art collectors a degree of comfort that the art they are buying belongs to somebody who has been deemed worthy of the 'label' of the signatures after their name.

Maybe the use of guild membership and signature status has traditionally always has a link to the commercial side of art - in terms of offering an assurance to the person paying money for the art created.

Who knows?

I'm not making a judgement about whether any of these processes are right or wrong.

I am endeavouring to explain why, over time, and for a long time, people have sought to make distinctions and to provide a signal about the person making art in terms of communicating to others what level that person has reached. (ie beyond that of the two year old picking up a brush for the first time).

Is the process of determining some form of 'label' a good thing or a bad thing?

I think it's understandable. I observe that it's normal in relation to virtually ALL occupations. Accordingly I'm not surprised that it should also happen in the art world.

Maybe the question should have been "If everybody who creates art is an artist, do those that become excellent deserve a special name? If not, why not?"

RitaJC said...

Thank you so much for starting this discussion!
My 2 cents would be: no need for special titles (as Wiki says they are rather young anyway :)
As "Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions." (Wikipedia), the creators of such stimuli ARE artists by definition, no?
Making art a special product supplied by a special professional group could have made our whole life less creative, colorful and happy.

JJ Sobey said...

It doesn't seem that complicated to me. Anyone who plays an instrument is a musician. If it is how they make a living, they are a professional musician. Seems pretty much the same to me for artists.

Making A Mark said...

Agreed - the term becomes meaningful when it gains an appropriate prefix

Beth Morey said...

Piggy-backing off of BJ's reply...when someone asks me, "What do you do?" I reply, "I make art," because that's the truth. I don't feel comfortable with the title "artist" yet. But I do make art and LOVE making art, and love how it is transforming my life.

Making A Mark said...

What an appropriate answer Beth! Nice one. :)

Selah Gay said...

Although there are many comments here that I agree with... I believe Niels Henriksen, the first commenter, expresses my heart best.

I believe we were all created to create...therefore we find ways in order to express that creativity!

Titles are merely mans way of categorizing and trying to find meaning to their own lives.

"There is no greater joy than the feeling of oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation." Henri Bergson

Selah Gay

Sarah said...

I wasn't going to comment on this one because I really didn't want to upset anyone who enjoyed making art of any kind as I really do believe that it is a very good and positive thing to do but... as a professional and practicing artist I must admit to occasionally getting a little peeved that anyone can announce themselves to be an "artist" . I began learning and constant practicing at a very young age, I worked hard to get my degree in fine art, I have brought up five children on the earnings from my profession and finally, after at least 40 years of practice I feel very entitled to my job description which also happens to be my personality trait, star sign, nationality and any other description that comes to mind. I once met a retired Dr. (he was a slightly obnoxious person) who upon retirement had taken an evening class in painting, had an exhibition, sold a painting and was calling himself an artist. Top plan, I thought, when I am old enough to get reduced rates on evening classes I will take a first aid course and perform a little brain surgery. Me, bitter.... Never!

grovecanada said...

Here in Canada there are organizations that define the term professional artist...I am sure this is the same elsewhere...If you want to participate in these groups or unions you have to fulfill some or all of their qualifications...For me this meant that I had to do a certain number of shows in a certain amount of time, as well as having a quantity of people see my work on a regular basis, with a minimum number of sales per year...I also have suitable education & have had various memberships that help to identify my to the public...
Practically this means I endeavour to participate in a minimum of one show every year & half, I sell a minimum of two works per year, & if I am not selling, I put my work in a venue that gets a large amount of daily traffic- since just being seen is one of the qualifications...
On a personal note, I think the artist thing is something that is comfortable against your skin...People know that is what I do because they sense that is my nature...It is a cosy fit for my personality...Sometimes I see people who call themselves artists, but it does not fit their skin as well as some other designation...I truly think that being an artist is a rare thing...You know them when you meet them...

Making A Mark said...

Thank you Sarah - it's always interesting to hear the perspective of the full time professional practising artist (I make that three prefixes!). It's good to share and thank you for sharing.

Making A Mark said...

Grovecanada - I hadn't heard about the qualifications for being called a professional artist in Canada. That really sounds very interesting - and very similar to the competency based systems which define so many occupations in the UK now.

Which is the organisation which decides the standards which need to be met?

Unknown said...

I think the being artistic and being an artist are different things. One can be artistic but not an artist. Just as tech design can be aesthetically pleasing, and surely we would say that designer is artistic, we don't call him/her an artist or that piece of tech art. The differentiation lies in intention. Call me old school, but I believe artists are motivated by an innate and ineffable urge to express or communicate something, and they do that through art. Obviously, there is a vast range of mediums to choose how to express these things, so what kind of art is an arbitrary qualification for the title. What matters is the intention behind it.

Making A Mark said...

So Casey - does that mean commercial artists are not "real" artists because they create designs for clients?

There's a lot of romanticism about "being an artist".

The reality is that a lot of people who make a living from art do so in ways which don't always have a lot to do with "an innate and ineffable urge to express or communicate something"

Does that make them something other than an artist. I don't think so.

Rosie said...

I'm an artist and have no preciousness attached to the label - you don't need qualifications to be an artist, so if someone feels they are an artist by creating something, then all power to them! It took me a long time to accept the label artist cos I wasn't earning money from my work, but that attitude held me back. A lot! I have a degree in it and everything! So yeah, take that label if u want it and run with it as far as I'm concerned! Push those boundaries! :D

Unknown said...

On tax/ insurance forms etc I have to choose artist from their drop down lists, but it is a term I am uncomfortable with for all the reasons already stated. I used to say I was a painter but people found that equally confusing and I got sick of being asked to quote on someone's decor so I've gone back to the discomfort of artist without a qualifier, as again no 2 people seem to agree on the qualifier definitions.

Unknown said...

Ok I just asked my other half who works as a Tv & film cameraman but who has been around me and my art career and practice for 20 years as well as performing artists for 40 years. This is his definition: those that call themselves artists are usually not, but are aspiring to be or fooling themselves that they are!

Unknown said...

Who is an artist? New data for an old question,” by sociologists Jennifer C. Lena and Danielle J. Lindemann. Lena and Lindemann look at data collected in the 2010 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey as a means of exploring the confusion over who or what constitutes an artistThey go on to examine various possible answers: the SNAAP survey specifically states that teachers do not qualify as artists, a distinction to which a number of respondents object; designers constitute a fuzzy “boundary group,” with some of them identifying as artists and others not; people have faulty memories. But Lena and Lindemann’s strongest contender, and the one on which they put their money, is the idea of embeddedness and cultural capital — that people who grow up with artist parents or relatives, attend specific arts schools (rather than just programs), and work mostly in arts-related jobs feel more comfortable identifying as professional artists. “There is something that arts graduates get in their lives, through their connections with other artistic individuals, that contributes to the salience of their ‘artist’ identities,” Lena and Lindemann write. They continue:

We hypothesize that highly embedded art world members experience less ambiguity around their identity as artists, while those who only entered art-centered environments in their graduate training years experience more difficulty identifying as professional artists. Seeing one’s self as a professional artist is an achievement that compares to entering other elite status groups, in that advantages accrue to those with the implicit and explicit knowledge of group conventions, attitudes, habits, and ways of being and can remain beyond the reach of even those who are trained to belong.

So maybe the prefix is a necessary distinction?

Laura said...

Hi Katherine Hope you are well. Interesting questions. I have taken up mindfulness recently and the teaching says that we sail through life with very self-centred, narrow minded perceptions of ourselves. So with that view how relevant is anything we say or think, or call ourselves? When we look at the bigger picture of life perhaps it puts things into perspective. Does it really matter what anyone else thinks of us or more importantly what we ourselves define as the restricted requirements for the labels we place on ourselves and others? As a human race we are far more complex than the labels we place on ourselves. Once I used to strive to be called an artist. Now with a broader outlook on life, I humbly strive to be called a member of the human race. I do not need narrow minded labels to define who I am and I try not to get too bogged down by the unnecessary details of life. So I suppose the answers to these questions depend on what our outlook is. Perhaps this has added another dimension to your questions or maybe not... and from my point of view that is OK too. We learn to just accept people for who they are and not for what they continue to strive, fight, cheat, lie to call themselves. So what defines an artist in mindful terms: absolutely nothing because our lives are far greater and more important than what is described by a little word like 'artist'.

Making A Mark said...

Great reference Sandy.

What a pity that the research is wholly inaccessible to the group it's about!

Sarah said...

Living in Cornwall, home of a million "artists" and being a lady in my prime, I must agree with Ruth and hate calling myself an artist because of all the assumptions and connotations, that might say more about my prejudice, but when I have to "professional artist" suits best because it is what I do for a living as well as it being fundamentally who I am. Perhaps that's a difference from other professions, most of them don't consume all your life and hours, waking and sleeping. I think that it is possible that you can be an Artist, in your self, in your being, like your skin colour or being tall or something, therefore the prefix of professional artist is just a clue for people who ask you what you do at parties! I work as an artist but I am also an artist.
It's a fascinating question by the way.

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