Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I am not an artist

Jumping on Charles' question (Why did you become an artist?) and after much hemming and hawing have come to the happy understanding that I'm not one.

I have a studio, I’m constantly thinking about making things, and I sometimes show what I produce, but becoming an “artist” is something I’ve tried desperately to avoid. I’m still running away from the term. I have always been creating (in one sense or another) but what makes me differentiate myself for the A-word is an intense uneasiness over how I have come to define it.

I did not pursue a studio degree in school; I majored in other disciplines because I knew that no matter what my area of expertise was when I graduated, I’d still continue making art. Not having a BFA was not going to stop me. What I made I created out of personal desire; it didn’t matter if anyone else ever saw it or if the work just lived in a box in the basement. What I thought was a success I kept—what I hated (most things) I destroyed. To me, this wasn’t being an artist; artists exhibited in galleries, wrote statements, framed things, actively sought attention, and I didn’t really want that. I wouldn’t have said no to a little press, but I liked my anonymity and didn’t care if I was ever singled out for my work.

But I also wasn’t looking to studio art as a career: credentials didn’t matter—neither did the state of the market. At the time I didn’t personally know any artists who were supporting themselves off their work and, though I often would have liked more time to develop my ideas, working in other disciplines made every art session fresh and productive. I probably produced the most pieces when I was in grad school for French and working in information technology, just because of the variety. I don’t live and breathe art, and I can’t without going crazy. In the one “intro to drawing” class I took as an undergrad my professor told me that sometimes the most important thing you can do to a piece is to walk away. I walk away a lot.

Not that much of my time is actually spent making art, which is why I twinge at being called an artist. I don’t want to trivialize the dedication of people who actually spend most days in studio, or box myself in to a definition that is so malleable. Plus I think when most people ask you what you “do” they mean “for a living”, and I lose money on my art (I think that's ok).

I also think people hide behind the term artist to escape accountability, and that we let them get away with it. So I make things. Sometimes the things are art and sometimes they’re crap. But I keep making them, out of the need to express some vision that I can’t articulate (otherwise I would). That’s why I am—a creator, I guess.


Charles Kessler said...

What a contrast from Marianne Fourie's letter! It doesn't surprise me because I simultaneously hold several different opinions myself. I'm delighted!

Debra Ramsay said...

It was a pleasure to talk with you at the Jersey City Museum this afternoon.

In rereading your post, I question the need for labels at all. i.e. "Artist"

Why is it necessary to define one's self with a recognizable identifier?