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What is an artist?

People have always asked the question; what is art and who or what is an artist?

Simply put, an artist is someone who makes art.

The terms of being an artist have never been entirely clear. Are artists self-defined? Must they make money off their creative work (a certain amount)? What kinds of creative work count? Can you be a professional artist if you spend 30 hours a week doing something besides making art?

Art is pretty much whatever anybody says it is, and an artist is similarly anybody who says he is one. This leaves any definition of “artist” and “art” so vague as to be meaningless.

Societies of artists have perhaps the loosest definitions, admitting new members on the basis of the quality of an individual’s work or, in some cases, simply paying annual dues, there is no requirement in any of these groups that the creator of the art be a full-time artist or even have any professional aspirations.

Art is something you do, a verb. Art is an expression of your thoughts, emotions, intuitions, and desires, but it is even more personal than that: it’s about sharing the way we experience the world. But what we create on or in our chosen media is not in itself the art, splashing some paint on a canvas because someone tells you to is not art, nor does it make you an artist. Art is to be found in how the media is used, the way in which you express yourself through your art.

Artists make art for a reason, in order to share their ideas and visions with others, they spend quite a bit of time observing the world around them, pondering things, people, politics, nature, mathematics, science, and religion.

All of these interpretations require thought. Next time you see an artist sitting in a comfy chair and gazing into space, that’s not necessarily loafing. They might actually be working.

“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”

–Tom Stoppard

Part of the problem is fine art itself, people respect skill and technique, whether they understand it or not. A sculpture by Michaelangelo is an obvious display of great skill and imagination. A painting by Van Gogh, or Rembrandt; a composition by Beethoven, Mozart or Bach; are all seen as masterpieces, even by the audience who doesn’t truly understand because the skill and technique is something they could never imagine themselves being able to replicated.

However, with the paintings of modern artists like Jackson Pollock most of the work is greeted by the general public as something “a child of six could do!”. This modern work may be creative in every sense. It may be that it is a great expression of the human condition. But, to the general observer, it looks like anybody with a little paint a could do. So why are they still considered artists?

Modern art is the part of art that has sidelined the skills and techniques resulting from talent and training in place of the conceptual part. So much so, that the conceptual part has eclipsed and replaced the execution.

Part of being an artist is having an audience to view and, hopefully, buy the art. Art cannot necessarily be a lone wolf adventure which is why the art community is so important. Human beings thrive on interaction and having a peer group that shares your creative ideals can really help maintain your creativity.


So it is safe to say that there is no real definition of an artist so long as you are creating work that someone, somewhere likes to look at, you can be an artist.

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