Friday, April 25, 2014

What makes an artist an artist?

 
A recent Facebook discussion about whether art teachers are artists got me thinking.  Like most of you, my little students always have told me that I am 'the best artist in the world'.  (Except for maybe their grandma.  Their grandmas are always world famous artists, evidently.)  The kids' impression of me as a world renowned artist always makes me laugh.  How do they see me as an artist?  They see me as someone who can make magic happen with a brush loaded with creamy tempera paint.  They know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I evidently can draw/paint the best cats, fish, lizards, and dragons in the world!  And they are aware that I can doodle like there's no tomorrow.  Furthermore, they see me as someone who can create the most amazing creature out of a plastic bag, some newspaper and cereal box cardboard, and a box of Art Paste.  And they know that I built my 5' dragon Lucy (in the Sky with Diamonds) and her baby Sparkle, and Sparkle's egg all by myself.
But an artist...  am I one?  What makes someone an artist?  If I'm an artist, what kind of artist am I? I seriously don't know. (Note: all artwork featured in this post, whether jewelry, sculpture, painting, or whatever, was created by me.)  Do I call myself a painter?  A photographer? A jewelry designer?  A Project Runway wannabee?  A crafter?  A sculptor?  What am I?
I think perhaps I have what I will call AADD - artistic attention deficit disorder. My first serious artistic passion was oil paint.  I love the depth of color, the smell, the way the paint feels on a brush. Oh, and doodling with Flair pens (which I still adore).  Then in a college freshman drawing class, I fell in love with giant sticks of charcoal.  And charcoal mixed with washes of colored ink.  But then, along came darkroom photography, and the associated dangerously wonderful fumes. That passion lasted for years, until I sadly no longer had access to a darkroom.  For a brief period, I was hugely enamored with rapidograph pens, doing tons of detailed ink drawings. (Until I got tired of cleaning them all the time; what an annoyance!) Meanwhile, I kept painting.  I loved typography and I painted posters and signs, and even the sides of a van, a bus, and a fleet of beer trucks.

I got interested in hooking rugs, and I designed and made a HUGE rug, still hanging in my home, and after I made a couple of pillows with the leftover cut yarn, I gave up rug hooking.  Then I fell madly in love with batik, and while I haven't done authentic batik in several years, I still have all the necessary equipment and I plan to batik again. Yes, another art material with marvelously enticing and toxic fumes...
I love fabric, and I have pretty much sewn all my life, and lately I've gone seriously 'Project Runway', getting adventurous with my sewing projects.  Should I have been a fashion designer perhaps?  And I love beads, and several years ago began making jewelry obsessively.  Since I retired, I discovered PMC (precious metal clay), my latest little (and pricey) jewelry-making passion.  And of course that fun Cool2Cast stuff I wrote about last week.  And then there was that bead embroidery I learned to do....
Somewhere along the way, teaching made me fall in love with both papier-mache and plaster bandage, and I often think that maybe I should have been a sculptor. 
 Somewhere along the way, I bought acrylics when I didn't have a place at home to paint with oils.  and lately I've done some acrylic painting incorporating textural collage. 
 And I finally discovered digital photography.  Photoshop?  I'm totally a beginner, in desperate need of a tutor.  But I take pictures ALL the time, and have approximately a million zillion on my computer in need of editing..
HELP!  What kind of artist AM I?  Will I ever figure it out?  Do I have to give up one for the other?
Am I less of an artist if I don't want to give up all these various pursuits in favor of just one media?  Am a photographer?  A painter?  A jewelry designer?  A multimedia artist?  Or just a doodler, a dabbler, a crafter (after all, I did recently make a purse of out of a gourd, you may recall)?  When someone asks me "what is your medium?", how do I answer?  I mean, just about the only artistic pursuits I am NOT real interested in are printmaking, videography, and ceramics (though I'd be happy to dabble with that, too, given the resources). 
 What about you?  Do you also have an artistic identity crisis?  Should this worry me?  Will it say on my grave "She dabbled and doodled."? 

One additional thought - in my college curriculum, Art Ed was a double major: education and art.  And you needed a concentration in art.  I had two concentrations: one in painting and one in photography.  But knowing I planned to teach, I figured it was important to have experience with as many different mediums as possible to prepare me for the classroom, so I took basic courses in ceramics and pottery,  in gold and silversmithing  (where I was, sadly, an abysmal failure), in printmaking, and in sculpture (where, ironically, we used NO materials that you would ever ever use teaching elementary art, where I ended up 9 years later).  With all my carefully planned experience, I still never used stuff like plaster bandage, tooling foil, tempera paint, cardboard, papier-mache, and so much more.  Maybe that says something about the design of my education program.  Perhaps that's another blog post, another day?

14 comments:

  1. I am with you I have a Ceramics degree, and took many printmaking and sculpture classes along with all my art education classes. Oh I had NO painting classes at all, no experience with materials that you would use in elementary. SO when I had the chance to teach future art and regular education teachers at our local University I made sure each week they were getting their hands dirty with papier-mâché, paint, oil pastels, etc. Hopefully for those 5 + years I helped expose future teachers to new mediums. Were they going to be professional artists? Not sure but they did know how to use various paints and not to be afraid to experiment with color. :)

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    1. How crazy ironic, that someone who never took a painting course should be the person whose blog is most well-known for the incredible painting methods that you use with your students!!

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  2. I think range of subject and medium is important. Personally, I don't want to be a one trick pony. There's nothing wrong with exploring different directions in your creative process. You are a maker. When someone asks you what's your medium, there is nothing wrong with saying "everything".

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    1. Everything. I like that. Though when I get an opportunity to 'show' a piece of art, I never know what to bring. How do I decide? A photo? A painting? Once, several years ago, I participated in a gallery show for area art teachers. I brought a funky patterned silly papier-mâché cat made with a plastic grocery bag armature, cardboard tubes, and wads of newspaper, that I made in school with my students. It was surrounded by 'serious' works of art and I didn't know whether to laugh or hide at the show opening reception!

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  3. I too am a maker! Love that Don. A great post Phyl. Your perspectives are so valuable to us all.

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  4. Oh, Phyl, you are such a kindred spirit!!! I sometimes wonder what would have happened (skill-wise) if I had stuck with just one or two mediums and become really expert in one of them (other than teaching, that is:)) Ah, well, perhaps in another lifetime!!!

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    1. Haha! Exactly! Jack of all trades, expert at none; that's me for sure. Well we've still got room and time to grow and learn, I guess...

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  5. My definition of an artist is someone who can live from her/his creativity. So you are an artist Phil!

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    1. Thanks! That makes me feel great!

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  6. I agree with Don! You are a maker. You love to create things. In many different media (including sugar cookie dough!).

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  7. It's funny but, I am a new art teacher with NO art background and I bill myself as the art teacher without an art background. I do have a Masters in Early childhood Ed and always gravitated towards the open ended art. I luckily got a job in a private school run by a friend of mine who went to the same graduate school as me. She's real open to my learning and research as I go along so I can certainly say that one doesnt need to be an artist to be an art teacher. One real benefit is that it is a new school and I only teach Kdg and first grade and hope to grow along with the school

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  8. I found my new favorite blog...i have multiple art personality too. You are perfect.

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    1. Debby, how sweet! Thank you! I wrote this blog post more than two years ago, and I haven't changed a bit! Well, other than the fact that I am attempting oil painting again, and am over my love affair with beading! Please keep visiting the blog - it's got as many personalities as I do! Some days it's about kayaking and great blue herons, other days it's about a great art lesson, other days it's a phosilosphical educational rant, and still other days it's about my own crazy artistic pursuits!

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