I have a friend that likes to play a game called “What’s a sandwich?” He’s a bartender, so he is in the business of lobbing a thought out across the bar, aiming it at the customers, and five minutes later there will be a big debate amongst the entire bar…
“What’s a sandwich?” starts when he asks someone to define a sandwich.
Invariably, someone opens with a close variation on “something between two slices of bread”.
Then he asks, is a wrap a sandwich?
What about a taco?
Would a slice of bread between two other slices of bread be a sandwich?
What about bread and butter, is that a sandwich?
What about an open-face sandwich?
What about a lettuce wrap?
What about that scary KFC abomination that’s just chicken tenders with a burger in between?
Everyone gets thirstier, drinks more, fuels the conversation more……but I digress.
I feel like this is very similar to what happens when someone asks What is an artist?
Someone who paints or draws.
What about sculpture?
Ok, 3D too.
What about fashion? Or cooking? Or writing?
Ok, ok, an artist is someone who makes a thing.
What about a musician, a dancer? They’re not making a physical thing.
Of course! Them too!
What about a pregnant woman? Are they an artist? They’re making something.
This is a bottomless inquiry, trust me.
Then there’s my fave bomb to toss into a conversation in a room full of artists:
What is the difference between an artist, a maker, a craftsmen, a creator?
That will keep a crowd going for a while.
But the most contentious discussion of all, especially at an art convention, or a gallery opening, or some official art-world thing is this one:
What’s makes a “real” artist?
That’s what people ask when they want to distinguish between professionals and amateurs, or hobbyists.
Is an artist only a real artist if they make money off their work?
How much money does it have to be?
Does it have to be enough to live off of?
Does your art need to pay all your bills?
What if you are working part time and making art part time?
What if you have a non-art job and work on your art in your free time?
Do you become a “real” artist at a certain skill level?
Do you become a “real” artist if you’ve made X amount of art?
How long do you have to be making art before you are a real artist?
How much do you have to starve? How much ramen do you need to eat?
Do you have to be crazy to be a real artist? Do you have to suffer?
How old do you have to be before you are a real artist?
Do you have to have been making art your whole life to be a real artist?
Do people have to like your work to make you a real artist? How many fans do you need?
I think you’ll find very quickly that it’s really hard to define an artist, just like it’s really hard to define a sandwich. You just…know it when you see one. And there’s absolutely no such thing as a “real” artist. All artists are real. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been making art for 5 years or 5 minutes. Your skill level doesn’t matter. The amount of money you have or have not made off of your work doesn’t matter. Having a day job, a full time job, a part time job doesn’t matter. A college degree or any number of completed art classes doesn’t matter. Build a life around yourself that lets you create the way you need and want to create. If that’s as a professional career artist, great. If that’s as a hobbyist, fabulous. Some people’s art needs to be put under more pressure. Some people’s art needs to be unburdened by financial weight.
This may all seem like a no-brainer to you (and if so, count yourself lucky) because all the time in portfolio reviews and certainly every day on DearAD, I see artists yearning for legitimacy. Will quitting their job and going freelance full time make them a real artist? Will getting that first commission make them a real artist? If that one wasn’t big enough, will they feel like a real artist when they get a commission from their dream client? Will they be a real artist when they get into Spectrum? Will they be a real artist if they go back to school at 40? Are they a real artist if they never went to school?
All this energy worrying, all this wasted time. Let me tell you something now — I talk to the most well-known pro artists in the world, and I talk to the noobiest newbies — and nothing external, no job, no award, no gallery show, suddenly makes you feel like a real artist.
Who decides you’re a real artist?
So stop trying to prove it to anyone. Stop chasing legitimacy. It doesn’t come from a piece of paper and it doesn’t come from anyone else. You just have to convince yourself.
Here, let me help.
Do you create, decorate, imagine, beautify, craft, produce, design, form, paint, draw, sculpt, sew, cook, carve, sculpt, or shape?
THEN YOU ARE A REAL ARTIST.
Now stop wasting time and energy convincing anyone else, and use that energy to go make art.