Being & Becoming an Artist
I’ve been hovering around several blogs commenting on 1) being an artist, and 2) becoming an artist. I need to begin here with my own exploration of being/becoming by stating, that so far the best handles (definitions) I’ve arrived at for what art is, and what an artist is are these; ART is highly-skilled creative expression, and ARTISTS are persons who must make art.
I don’t mean to sound all uppity and intellectual. It’s just that I’m struggling to find my own way. It seems to me being/becoming is a huge aspect of what art and art-making’s all about; discovery and self-discovery.
ART: Highly Skilled Creative Expression
As I’ve written here before about Contemporary Art, there’s very little about it that is either “highly skilled”, nor “creative”, nor “expressive.” And it’s certainly not for lack of training. Most of those who participate in the contemporary art world have earned at least a BFA, and many more hold MFA’s. So what I’m talking about has less to do with training, than well developed, well applied skills of creativity, excellence, and meaningful expression.
ARTIST: Must Make Art
I’ve worked with, talked with, commiserated with creative people at all stages of their creative careers. One central discovery which has lead me to my own definition of what I call a “true artist” is the idea that a true artist must make art. From Julia Cameron, through Madeleine L’Engle, to Eric Maisel, right into my own experiences and conversations; everywhere I turn some highly creative person is suffocating from a lack of opportunity to make their art. I won’t bore you with my own story of this experience except to say that it was arduous.
Which brings me to the part about discovery and self-discovery; the art-making I do, and that I watch others make very often contains the adventures of discovery and self-discovery. It seems to me that well applied discovery, implies growth, and with growth comes heightened abilities; the development of talents, and better skills.
This is what I dislike about the oft re-quoted saying that, “Everyone’s an artist.” I believe that everyone is creative, but certainly not that everyone is an artist. There’s only a handful of people who experience the suffocating effects of being denied (or of denying themselves) the opportunity to pursue highly skilled creative expression. As well, that same handful are driven to make meaning; to interpret, translate, and communicate.
As for “being” an artist, well to my mind, there must be a willingness to pay the price of discovering and developing one’s skills and talents. I’m one of those artists who struggles with my creativity. It doesn’t come to me as it did to either Mozart, or Conan Doyle, already finished in their heads. No, I’m like so many others I encounter; we have to search, and experiment, and make wonderful mistakes, and feel our way toward the finished work. It’s a journey akin to chopping my way through a jungle of fears and excuses, the judgements and opinions of others, and my own self-doubts to uncover something of creative meaning. It’s a process I’ve discovered about myself, and have come to embrace it.
I’ve also found that “being” an artist is a life-choice; a 24/7 openess to input, ideas, and inspiration. It’s often a perception of the world others usually find odd, different, and even peculiar. It’s a willingness to grapple with this stuff and figure out a way to live with it, to get it out in some kind of creative manifestation, and share it with others.
Becoming an artist; well to my mind, that’s a life-long pursuit. It’s a choice to get into the trenches and commit to whatever it takes. I remember popping out of college, degree in hand, feeling so finished and complete. Like my peers I was ready to make my mark in the world. Because school was behind me I figured that I had learned just about all I needed in order to get out there and make my art. Are you laughing yet?
In the daily process of art-making, I quickly learned that what I left school with was merely an ability more akin toward imitation than to originality. Little did I know that the wondrous journey of discovery had only begun. And I think most artists begin this way. I see it in young artists of all media all the time; they begin with what little they know, and that’s usually only what they’ve studied in school. I was no different.
It has taken years, decades even, to be willing to make this mistake ridden, experiment laden journey to find out who and what I am, and then to see my own creative voice emerge from all of that experience. And on it goes, the daily joy of discovery, and development; of growth in self-awareness and abilities.
Some additional perspectives and insights;
Making Meaning | The Cult of Genius | Sarah Jane Gray
jeffberryman | Don’t Forget What You’re Doing | Jeff Berrymen
Stone Works | The Need to Pay Attention | Luci Shaw
Would love to hear your views and experiences;
How do you realize the idea of “being an artist?” What does that mean to you? How do you pursue “becoming” in your art-practice? As it pertains to your art-practice, what does “being” and “becoming” mean to you?