Monday, May 30, 2011

Are You an Artist?

Fabulous Felt Artist Palette Necklace,

I was reading Rena Klingenberg's always informative and interesting Home Jewelry Business Success Tips newsletter,, when an article called "Are You an Artist?" caught my eye. Written by April Schwaegerle of April Francene Designs,, it examined the age-old question that plagues so many creative people, namely, "Are you an artist?" For many reasons, labeling oneself as an artist is difficult. It's not like saying you're a doctor or lawyer or teacher or office worker or shopkeeper or even aspiring Olympian. Perhaps part of the reason is because the word artist sends many mixed messages. For some people, the word evokes an image of an unhinged and ear-less Van Gogh, while others think of the proverbial starving artist feverishly painting in a rat-infested attic. Still others think of someone who isn't serious, whose work is relegated to the realm of hobby and can be mimicked by third graders. Then again, there are those who think of artists as inhabiting the loftier end of the creative spectrum, excelling at oil paintings and large scale sculptures worthy of being displayed in museums. In each instance, the identity of the artist is fraught with flaws, whether they be flakiness, poverty, childishness, or an inflated sense of self-importance. With stereotypes like this floating around, it's no wonder that so many of us are hesitant to admit to the title. April's article forces each of us to redefine the way we think about ourselves and our art. Go ahead and give it a read:

Are You an Artist?

"I just attended an exhilarating conference in Detroit hosted by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, titled "Rust Belt to Artist Belt III". This conference originated in Cleveland, and we were fortunate to have it here in the Motor City this year.

I am not writing to tell you about the conference but about the attendees.

There were approximately 300 people in attendance representative of all mediums such as: graphic designers, landscape designers, architects, photographers, fashion designers, sculptors, painters and at least one jewelry designer . . . me!

I had the opportunity to mingle at the parties and during the breaks and I came up with an ice-breaking question, "Are you an artist?"

It was a simple enough inquiry, or so I thought, but it provoked an emotional response that I did not anticipate.

"Me? An artist?" most replied with a look of confusion and self-doubt. One woman in particular, who held a Masters Degree of Fine Art, could not answer yes to this question.

Wow! This made me realize that most artists lack confidence.

But why?

If I asked my seven-year old niece if she is an artist, then she would say yes. I think the difference is, in her mind, she believes she is an artist.

I am not sure if adult artists have lost that confidence along the way or if external forces like juries and judges have intimidated their beliefs. Or, are they comparing themselves to the esteemed and extolled?

I do not have the answer to why but I do know that if you want to succeed as a creative individual or own a creative business, then you must be shameless in announcing to the world that you are an artist!

My kindergarten teacher told my mother that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.

So I kept drawing. Then I painted. Then I was an advertising artist. Then I became a video producer.

Now I am a jewelry designer who primarily beads with a little wire wrapping thrown in for fun.

Maybe it just takes one person to believe in you even if that one person is yourself.

In my heart and soul... I have always been an artist. Are you?"

I immediately recognized the reluctance of the people April questioned. I've oftentimes been at the post office, mailing a package to a customer in an envelope covered with illustrations, when the clerk inevitably asks, "Did you draw this?" I say yes, and the next question is always, "Are you an artist?" I always feel embarrassed. Secretly, I think, "Well, yeah," but I don't want to say it out loud for fear of sounding pompous. Similarly, I'll be carrying a bag I painted or wearing a piece of jewelry I made, and someone will ask me if I made said piece. Again, I say, "Yes," and again, the person says, "Are you an artist?" Inevitably I find myself saying sort of, that I don't have a degree in it or anything, but that I took lessons and won art contests as a kid, and that of course I have a day job because if I didn't that would be just crazy, right? I babble on like this, as if by asking his or her simple question the poor person (who, let's be honest, is probably just making small talk) has hinted that I'm some kind of fraud that they'll expose. The funny thing is, I identify myself as "Artist" on my business cards. So I can put it into print but not conversation. Ridiculous, I know, but there you have it. Reading about other artists struggling with this sort of thing was oddly comforting. (Several readers commented on April's post, some of whom cited experiences similar to my own.) Even more importantly, it made me realize that I shouldn't be afraid of standing behind what I do.

So, what do you think? For those of you who "make stuff," have you ever had trouble telling someone that you're an artist? Or are you more inclined to proclaim it proudly from the (studio) rooftops? The Tote Trove wants to know.


Jewel Divas said...

I've always been into jewellery. Since I was about 6 or 7. I started making simple stuff as a teenager and then moved on to bigger better stuff in the last ten years or so. The last few years I decided to make to sell, not that that's gone so fantastically.

But I've never considered myslf an artist. A jewellery designer, yes. A jewellery creator, yes. A jewellery maker, yes. But not an artist.

The Tote Trove said...

I know what you mean. I too have loved jewelry since I was a kid. Also like you, I've seen a definite progression in my own creations. When I started, the pieces were really simple. Then I gradually started making more and more elaborate designs. Now I hate those early ones; just yesterday I took one apart so I could use the beads in a new necklace.

Thanks for your comment about the artist question. It's always interesting to get creative people's perspective on this one!