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Am I An Artist?

Am I an artist just by virtue of calling myself one? When I create art, does that automatically make me an artist? Can I even call what I create ‘art’? Why is this word ‘artist’ so important, and what power does it hold over me? These are questions that occupy my mind often and I think are important to pay some attention to in order for them not to become obstacles on my journey of creating art and being an artist.

am-i-an-artist-detailHas anyone ever given you a compliment on your art, only for you to quickly dismiss it or downplay it? For example I often find myself saying “Oh it’s only a hobby”. As if my art is not as arty as someone else’s, simply because it’s not my day job. If I accept that compliment, truly, it becomes a scary tentacle monster with lots of expectations. It becomes a gateway for judgement, because WHOA if I call myself an artist then I must tick the boxes of what other people think an artist is or should be.

I don’t know what other people think, but I know they’re out there, ready to judge, ready to trample my fragile budding artist soul. Better to not call myself an artist at all actually and crawl back in my cocoon of safety where I never risk anything or put myself OUT THERE. Isn’t it funny though, because I have no such problems with calling myself a mother. I became a mother automatically when I gave birth to my first son. I might be concerned sometimes with being a good mother, whatever the hell that means, but a mother I am, for sure, no question. So why is art so special that I feel creating it doesn’t automatically make me an artist? Whose permission am I waiting for to call myself an artist?

Face it, in order to reach our potential and be fulfilled we need to take risks. It’s the easy option to let your fear of what other people think inhibit you being yourself. That way you never have to face your fear, you never have to own up to it, and you never have to truly admit that it is PART OF YOU. The roots of your fear may lie in other people in the past (don’t we all have those childhood scars?), but the change lies with you right here, right now. Stop externalising your fear, OWN IT!

am-i-an-artist-quoteHave you ever noticed that people tend to treat you in accordance with how you present yourself? A confident person gets treated with respect. A shy person gets ignored. If you meet someone new and you ask what they do and they say “I’m an artist”, are you going to ask for their qualifications to make sure they’re really an artist? No, you’re going to accept it just as you would have if they’d said they’re a teacher or an architect or a mother.

If it doesn’t sound too cultish (lol), then please join me in saying that: From this day forward I will call myself an artist and not apologise for it.

By Iris

Hi I'm Iris! I'm a mixed media artist, teacher & vlogger from London, UK. I make raw, quirky and emotive art. Online I inspire & encourage people to make their own unique art and express themselves.

39 replies on “Am I An Artist?”

Wonderful post! The question “Whose permission are we waiting for?” is such a powerful one. I too struggle with the word artist, so your post really hit home. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

Angela thank you so much for letting me know this post resonated with you. It’s so funny, even though I’ve written this post and I truly stand behind and believe in what I’ve written, I still continue to struggle with this! It’s just a continuous process of realising this, giving myself permission, doing it, and repeat.

Ahh yes, the day job! Another excuse for us to invalidate our inner (and outer) artist *winks* I know exactly how you feel Mihaela. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Thank you for writing this… I so needed to read this!! Your question, “whose permission am I waiting for?” is so true. I don’t need anyone else to tell me who I am!!
Thank you!

I’m glad it was helpful to you Carmen! We’re so conditioned aren’t we, as if we need someone to give us permission or some sort of magic ‘go ahead’. It’s difficult to start enabling yourself to give yourself permission, but we can do it! Thanks for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. xx

Love love love this! I hate my “day job” – hate being defined by it. I think when I meet new people I want to say “I’m an artist” when they ask “what do you do?” Still, some how that is so hard to say – to both myself and to others. It takes courage, which is crazy (why does this take so much courage?!) but as they say, actions change thought! I’ll do it if you do!

I have been saying it recently!! When people ask me I say “I’m an artist”, although I still feel like I need to look over my shoulder to see if the artist police aren’t going to jump in and say “No she’s not!” lol. For what it’s worth, you are definitely an artist to me.

Hi Iris. Reading your post today finally confirms the message that I’ve been getting for the past months but choose to ignore out of fear – that is, to put myself OUT THERE. I, too, struggle with the word “artist” because I don’t have any formal education related to arts but I’ve been “creative” for as long as I can remember. But through your post, I now realized that I’m not the only one feeling this way and its perfectly OK to tell myself and the people who ask me who am I that I AM AN ARTIST! ???? i am running my own race and I don’t have to compare myself to anyone. Everyone is entitled to be an artist, in whatever art/craft they pursue.

Thank you, Iris.

PS. We almost have the same name πŸ˜‰

Airees, your comment brought such a big smile to my face. It’s so wonderful to read that my post resonated with you in such a big way. You ARE an artist and yay for realising this.

PS Your name is so cool!!! I had never come across it spelled like that before.

Iris, I loved the correlation you made about being a mother. Yes, a mother has no qualifications when she becomes a mother (for the first time). Yet, she’s still a mother. She learns her way as she goes. I also have difficulty with calling myself an artist and wonder if someone will counter my statement. It’s silly, isn’t it? We do this to ourselves, other people aren’t doing it to us. Great post!

This is all so true! I’m thinking I should make some mixed media “Official Artist Certificates” that “artists-who-need-convincing” could hang on theirstudio wall! Iris…I think you’re an artist!

Liz, that is such an amazing idea!!! I love art with affirmative statements. If you do create something like this let me know as I’d love to see!

Love this post. I still struggle, one of my proudest moments a few weeks back my husband was renewing insurance and I heard him say ‘oh, she is an artist’ when asked his wife’s profession. I still dont say it, and yet I am working towards showing work at a local exhibition.. what does that make me then? Even my facebook page is ‘Lynda wants to be an artist’. I have a print out on my wall here next to me from Shoo Rayner the illustrator, he sent all his youtube viewers one for getting him 20,000 subscribers. It says ‘I wish the bearer of this note to have a fabulous life and to become really good at drawing through, practice, practice, practice. With best wishes Shoo’.

I heard my husband say the same thing the other day! Means a lot doesn’t it, when someone else says it? Like it has more power than when you say it yourself. You’re not just wanting to be an artist Lynda, you ARE an artist! You’re doing it, there is no other qualifier necessary than that.

You are the guide that the universe has led me to today as I’ve struggled with this very question for months. Thanks so much for addressing it so well and sharing your thoughts. πŸ™‚

Great thoughts and helpful! It was years of doing art before I could bring myself to own at all that I am an artist. I hadn’t been formally “trained” in art…but I created art for other people–and they even paid for it–so I began to call myself a “stained glass artist.” Its what I did.

Finally I realized that art is a way of *seeing* even if it isn’t translated into something tangible. Art is a way of thinking. I am an artist…whether or not I’m creating! Now I see how I *have* been waiting for “permission” [thank you for that insight, Iris!] to fully realize that identity.

Oh, there will always be people to dismiss me…to think that their concept of me is more valid. But I know better. I’m an artist. πŸ™‚

Yay!!!–I’m an artist!!! πŸ˜€

I so know what you mean, being an artist is a way of experiencing the world, of seeing things differently, noticing things that other people don’t notice. It’s like, there’s the world, but as an artist, it’s world plus. Lol.

Yay you’re an artist Virginia!!! Thanks for sharing your story. xx

Iris, I am so glad I found this post today. I have been struggling with this also for a long time to call myself an artist, because I feel I am not creating the same level of art as artists I admire. I also felt uncomfortable with calling myself an artist, because I don’t have formal art education. I realised now as I am writing this comment, that I feel this way as I have the believe that you can’t call yourself something you have not studied for. Like I can’t call myself an architect for example. But as you said: we all call ourselves a mother from day one when we hold our child, even though we never had formal qualifications to arrive at this title. I think artists can fall in this same category. We are calling ourselves a mother because we deeply love our child. We can call ourselves an artist because we are deeply in love with creating art.

These barriers we apply to ourselves in order to allow ourselves to be what we already are…

I’ve seen your art Angelique, you are totally and definitely an artist!

So glad you decided to write about this topic. I have been creating as long as I can remember and I am still waiting for someone to qualify that I am indeed an artist. Maybe I am waiting for a benchmark…like doing an art fair, or putting up a website, getting a certificate, who knows. Truth is that life is too short and precious to keep ourselves from living out our passions.

You can claim the title for yourself Sylvia! I don’t think anyone else will do it for you first, but doing it yourself feels scary! Thanks for letting me know your thoughts xx

I love how you use the analogy of being a mother as soon as you gave birth to your baby. It makes sense, therefore, to call ourselves artists as soon as we give birth to a piece of art work, even if we perhaps feel our art is not yet “good enough.” I might just add “artist” to my description of myself in future – who cares what anyone else thinks, anyway!! πŸ˜‰

Glad it resonated Julia! Yes claim that title! It’s only us who can give ourselves that title and it doesn’t matter what other people think about it.

This is so timely for me, too, as I struggle with claiming the word “artist”. I have only been art journaling for a couple of years, but have made “collage cards”, as I call them for ages. For me it’s an issue of personal confidence and self esteem to be able to call myself an artist, no matter how many compliments I get on my work. So thanks, Iris, for giving my confidence a boost. I am an artist from this day forward!! I have followed you for so long, and now I know why!! Love from a brand new artist.

Wonderful! I say “I do art” or “I make art” but rarely do I venture to call myself an artist; people then ask if I sell things… and I haven’t attempted to sell my art… yet. And maybe because my brother IS a professional artist who sells his work and does commissions and his stuff is so good, I am fearful of trying to live up to him? I question it all the time… Thank you for writing this!

Ooh yes that’s a difficult situation isn’t it, when you compare yourself to someone close to you who you feel can claim the title much more readily? If you make art you are DEFINITELY an artist Cynthia! It really doesn’t matter if you sell it or not. I think it was van Gogh who hardly sold any of his pieces while he was alive??

Hi Iris, thank you for this.

I, like the ones above me love the ” Who’s permission are we waiting for?” I’m asking myself this right now.

You see, I’m asking that, only I’m not scared of how others see me but rather how I see myself.

My family and friends and acquaintances all put forth that I’m an artist. I’m their artist friend. When introductions are made its ” this is Christy, she’s an artist. ” And I’m looking around like whos-a-what-now?! I feel all flush and like a big impostor when I realise that the -Whos-a-what-now is me!

I quickly start apologising that I’m not really an artist, I’m just a whimsy artist, I can’t be an artist because I haven’t gone to art school. I can’t be an artist because I’ve only been at it a year. And I always blunder by saying something bad like ” Oh, so and so is just being nice.” And then the friend in question puts forth that I’m selling work and before I know it we are recapping my whole experience and I’m withdrawing into my own mental dialogue as my friend / family ask me to show photos to my new acquaintance.

It’s awkward and awful.

Why can’t I just say ” Hi, yes so nice to meet you. Yes, I’m an artist. “?

The words art and artists have some magical mythical master unreachable epic status in my head.

I think that others see me as ” white trash” of the art world because I wasn’t raised in it nor studied it, nor fought my way through art school. I don’t have art application and I only learnt of the Flemish Primitive Masters two months ago ( tho I am passionate already).

I’m not inherently creative. I’m not a natural nor does creating come easy for me.

I’m fighting for every single brush stroke some days.. Truly struggling.

I’m not a ” fine artist “, honestly, I don’t even actually know what ” fine art ” is though I’ve googed ” What is fine art”.

I feel like I have to duck for cover every time I’m introduced as an artist or talk about my art because some officer of the “art police” will try to catch me riding dirty.

I’m torn. Because I know that with all that said, I want to be an artist… Greatly, but I feel like I’m a big old fake.

Does that go away? I don’t know.

All I do know is that I will keep struggling and fighting to create and I’ll try to manage my unease when introduced as an artist and maybe one day will be able to not glance awkwardly away….

Thank you Christy for sharing so candidly about your own experience and struggle. It’s surprising to read (although I remember you let on about your struggle in a previous comment you left) as your art comes across as so accomplished and beautiful (I know, no one sees the struggle! Just the end result). I can’t make any promises but I do really hope that you will someday feel comfortable with calling yourself an artist. In the meantime I definitely think embracing the struggle and discomfort is where it’s at, even if it’s difficult. I admire you very much Christy!

Oh thank you, Iris! I really admire you too. I appreciate your thoughts and openness in sharing them.

I think that so many creators struggle with the word artist because when one says artist we tend to either picture the masters, the struggling art students or the eclectic neighbour buildings sculptures with ” junk ” and suturing tools…we don’t tend to picture the stay at home mum with yesterday’s jam in her hair being constantly interrupted by grubby little hands who want you to come play. We don’t normally picture the retired empty nester clearing out their child’s old bedroom for studio space…or the fibro patient doing art therapy and finding themselves striving for more. We don’t tent to think ” artist ” and just see you, me and Sally Jo from around the street…which is a shame.

We are creators. Regardless of our circumstances, if we bring forth something into the world that wasn’t there before we wrought it..we are creators, we are inventors…we are…omg, I’m going to say it…we are artists.

See, I feel that with conviction… But still it made me squirm.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the exquisite struggles. Art, creating is much like child birth, we struggle to bring it forth but when we do, there is joy and we send it out into the world and pray it thrives.

I thank you for this post and am so glad I read it. I have friends who create really beautiful stuff and I easily call them artists, but I used to just say I am a artsy, craftsy person. A couple of months ago I heard someone say that they were not an Artist like the masters, but an artist, and that anyone who loves to create art is an artist with an “a” even when they don’t feel like they are an Artist with an “A”. I have a little easier time claiming to be an artist with an “a”. lol

Yay Lisa, I’m so happy you’ve been able to claim the title! I think it’s hard to call yourself an artist from a place of comparison (e.g. if I call myself and artist/Artist then I must think I’m just as good as the masters) but I think if we take the comparison out of it then we can call ourselves an artist in our own right!

All this resonates with me so much, Iris! Exactly my sentiments, only I couldn’t have expressed my feelings so eloquently. I still struggle with the label ‘artist’ for the same reasons you outlined. Although I find it increasingly easier now to call what I do ‘art’, I still can’t call myself an artist and I’m not sure I ever will.

Hi there. I have just been introduced to you through creativejumpstart, which I enjoyed so much. Thanks for this article, it’s absolutely something I struggle with, mostly because I don’t make money from my art. I just like to create and put it out in the world. (I’m retired and in the blessed position to not have to sell it) It’s interesting how money puts value on things. Thanks again. I have read a few of your articles and they are all so thoughtful!

Indeed, money is so tied up with value, and often equated for the same thing. It’s hard to unlearn. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my articles!

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