The Laws of Nature

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The First and Second Steps to Becoming an Artist

According to psychologist Otto Rank, The first step in becoming an artist is when one calls oneself an artist. This is a powerful statement. I remember years ago when I first adopted that identity and it was precisely such a moment. Sure, I had studied fine art at universities and privately, but, at that time I didn't really feel like an artist because I hadn't made many sales nor had I established a relationship with a gallery. In fact, my work wasn't all that great. Then, someone came to my home to look at my paintings. I was embarassed and made some lame excuse that I was working hard so that one day I could become an artist. The person looked up at me in astonishment and said "You ARE an artist!" That was the turning point for me. That's when I realized that self-identification as an artist is essential to becoming an artist. This is where it starts. OK - so the rest of the world might not always agree with the label, but who cares? Over the summer I read a wonderful biography of Louise Nevelson written by Laurie Lisle. I was taken with the fact that Nevelson self-identified as an artist at a very early age. It was her identity and passion from youth even though it took her nearly four decades to get her first solo show. According to Lisle, Nevelson early on developed the ability to dissociate herself from the objective reality and enter completely into the emotional truth of an experience. This was essential to her development as an artist. Is this the second step to becoming an artist? If, as Theresa Bernstein once wrote, The language of art is the prime language of a human relationship with life, then wouldn't the acquisition of that language be essential and the logical next step after one has self-identified as an artist?

10 comments:

Margaret Ryall said...

I agree with all points. I had a very difficulty time making the move from educator to artist. When I left my career in education in 2001, it took me four years to fill in forms or complete introductions with the answer visual artist. I felt like I was playing at it and hadn't arrived. I was even using demeaning terms like "trying to be an artist" to describe what I was up to in the second half of my life. Sometimes I think we are much harder on ourselves than anyone observing our practice. I made the mistake of referring to my work as "my little art practice". in a taped interview once and the radio host stopped mid stride and said "That's being edited out" I was in group show at the gallery where I was being interviewed and from that point on ....I am an artist.

As artists "the language of art" is constantly being acquired and refined. The acquisition begins with an understanding of the basics (the semantics- "the how") of art language which allows us to create in the beginning stages of our career.Over time creation evolves based on our understanding of our inner and outer worlds and how they are connected. I see this as "why" we create art. The more experiences we have, the more we read and engage in critical discussions about our practice etc. the more evolved our language of art becomes.

I want to mix the debate up a bit. Are you a "professional" artist?

The International Artists Association defines a “professional artist” as one who:

* earns a living through art making;
* or possesses a diploma in an area considered to be within the domain of the fine arts;
* or teaches art in a school of art or applied art;
* or whose work is often seen by the public or is frequently or regularly exhibited;
* or is recognized as an artist by consensus of opinion among professional artists.

Kathy said...

Margaret ... another insightful and substantive response from you!
Thanks so much for enlightening me with your additions to this blog, and for sharing how you developed the title "artist." I also like your ideas about the developmental stages of the language of art. Makes perfect sense! I hadn't before seen the IAA's definition of a professional artist, and this is an important and clear distinction that we should all consider. I fit the criteria, so I guess my label should be "professional artist." Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

hwfarber said...

This is a biggie. I could not help but notice that both of you (Kathy & Margaret) waited for the title to be bestowed.

When I'm introduced as an artist, I say, "I paint." Years ago, when a gallery in D.C. upgraded my bio to "international sculptor," I said "I sculpt."

I have had trouble with this and hate to flunk out on the first step, but I look forward to reading more comments and more blog entries.

Kathy said...

HW ... there's no flunking :) After reading your bio, it looks like you're a very accomplished "professional artist" - "professional painter" -"professional sculptor"! I remember that during the '60's we used to rebel against "labels." Here I am assigning labels! Oh, dear ;)

Teresa said...

The first step seems to always be aceptance of the fact, right? and it's probably the hardest step too, thanks for the food for thinking today Katharine.

Kathy said...

Good point, Teresa! It would be a critical step to first recognize and then accept. Thanks for adding your thoughts :)

Chuck Gniech said...

Love your imagery... it's a wonderful inspiring series... I will continue checking back to see more.
Thank you...
Chuck

-Don said...

When I was 5 years old I decided I wanted to be an artist. Sometime in my elementary school days I called myself an artist for the first time and have been doing so ever since. What I find myself doing, though, is delineating between Fine Artist and Graphic Artist, because, in effect, I'm both. Why do I feel a need to separate the two? It's a question I've asked myself many times before and still don't have the answer for. What I know for sure is that each compliments the other and often converge in my work. Maybe I should just quit calling myself either and jump in with Margaret and call myself a Professional Artist. Now if only the Fine Art would start paying as well as the Graphic Art used to... Oops, I meant, I wish my Professional Art was still paying as well as it used to...

-Don

Kathy said...

Hi Chuck, Thanks for joining our discussion! I look forward to your comments in the future.

Kathy said...

Don ... Good point about the destinction between Fine Artist and Graphic Artist. This is an important distinction, and I suppose you could just lump them together into the category "Professional Artist." But, on a resume' you'd probably have to keep the two separate. I grinned when you mentioned income - how true! I spent many years supporting my "art habit" with a second job. Glad those days are over.