When to call yourself an artist

When to call yourself an artist

when to call yourself an artist

Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at the age old question of the art world. At what point do you get to call yourself an artist?

I’m not an artist yet...

If you are reading this then there is a chance that you are reading it because you’re bored, you’re reading it because you are a regular reader, or you are reading it to find out if after all these years of putting brush to canvas, you can now legitimately call yourself an artist. I suspect in most cases it is the latter.

I have been creating art for more than 30 years with the intention of selling it. Yet I didn’t start calling myself an artist until almost two decades had passed me by. Why? Because I didn’t see myself as an artist but there was another reason too, and a hundred excuses in between.

The simple answer without you having to read any further is that you can call yourself an artist from the day you first pick up that paint brush. You might want to hang around and read on though because before you do call yourself an artist there are two more things that you have to do too.

What or who is an artist?

Artist. It’s a job title, it’s also a way of life, it’s a mountain of really hard work, a vocation, a calling, it’s lots of things but mostly it’s a mindset.

Anyone can achieve that mind set even if they think they can’t draw or paint right now. The technical skills can be learned through practice, practice, and more practice. The theory through learning, the business through doing. Having the mind set of an artist though is something that can really hold you back if you don’t have it.

A friend...

A few weeks ago I chatted with a friend who has been creating some gorgeous artworks for many years but never with the intention of selling any of them.

He has always described himself as a hobbyist despite working on his art every chance he gets which is usually every day for at least three or four hours. Thats the kind of time that most professional artists would love to spend solely on creating.

When I asked why he wasn’t at least selling some of them or even selling prints, his answer was that he didn’t feel he was an artist.

When I asked him why, his response was because he wasn’t creating art full time, he had a day job, and besides he felt his work wasn’t that good.

My answer to this was, that firstly that is what every artist in the history of art, has thought and said, often frequently.

Secondly, I mentioned that most artists and designers have day jobs often so far removed from art, that if they stopped calling themselves artists we wouldn’t have many artists left.

Mark Rothko had initially wanted to be a labor union organizer and ended up teaching until he could stand on his own as a full time artist. Jeff Koons was a commodities broker on Wall Street. They both pursued an artistic career while working the nine to five.

It’s not weird or wrong for an artist to have a day job, it’s super-rare when they don’t. Having a day job doesn’t make your art any less, but there is a dream amongst many artists that giving up the day job to focus full time on art is what they need to do to be taken seriously.

I’ve known artists who have exhibited in some of the world’s best galleries and they still turn up to the day job. Eventually they might reduce the hours that they do, a few will step into the unknown and go all in, but there will always be very serious and talented artists who continue doing whatever they do outside of the studio. This is how it has always been.

So in answer to my friends self-misbelief that his art wasn’t great, I had to spend the best part of an hour convincing him that his work was way ahead of a lot of so called “great art”. I’m not sure I totally succeeded but at least, I hope, I got him thinking.

every child is an artist Pablo Picasso


So what is great art?

We can’t call ourselves artists because our work isn’t great, I hear that a lot. Great art is either truly great or it gets labelled as great art because someone with a voice in a certain corner of the art world says it is great and that it is worth the money at the show or at the auction.

Mostly that art is doing well because either the artist has put their all into their work and has made sacrifices and decisions along the way, or it is doing well because someone who influences art buyers says that this piece of art or this artist is worth it. Yet there’s really great art that never gets seen at all by those who have this influential voice, because they don’t see the artist as an artist, and that can sometimes be the fault of the artist.

The reality is that neither the credible voice or the value of the artwork are what makes art truly great. Sure they can influence our thinking and perceptions but with the right marketing even really bad art sells, and who is anyone to say that bad art is bad at all. Art is supposed to be subjective.

Most of us can probably recall certain pieces over the years when even we as artists with a supposedly artistic eye for these things have asked questions of at least inwardly. WTF is that, and how much did it fetch, before we scurry away wondering what we’re doing wrong and blaming the gatekeepers to the art world, or the system, or the market for being sucked in.

Great art is art that evokes an emotion or reaction. That’s what art does, and because art is subjective, the viewer determines what’s great. 

The system is why we can’t call ourselves artists then?

Sometimes we put it down to the old adage that life’s not fair. If only someone with some credibility were to see my work then I would be successful. You know what, we probably wouldn’t be.

Thinking that life’s not fair isn’t the way to think about why one artist gets the gallery gig or becomes a huge success and another artist doesn’t. 

Life really isn’t fair because if it was, then someone born in an under developed country and who has to walk miles to fetch unclean water for the rest of their family would instead be complaining about the queues in Starbucks alongside us on a Monday morning. None of us had a choice over where or what circumstances we were born into. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to make choices that enrich our lives, others not so much. 

We say that we can’t call ourselves artists because we think that the art world is rigged or it is only for those born into it. We avoid the artist label because achieving success on such a scale is granted to only those who could afford the very best fine arts education or have the money to buy their way in.

Nope, it’s not that either. Th happens but that’s not what is really stopping us. I know of some great self taught artists who are making an absolute living from just creating their art. They went to the same type of public school as me, along with the rest of the kids from the estate. Whilst none us went without, we and our parents just didn’t have that kind of money. 

There’s a whole other article about what goes on in the darker corners of the art world, where prices can be artificially inflated in order to sell works that haven’t had any interest shown in them or haven’t fetched the kind of return that the seller had in mind.

The art world isn’t transparent, and because of this lack of transparency we can’t always see what’s going on. That’s one of the reasons why artists can never confidently put a financial value on their own work, there are no transparent baselines on which we can truly value like for like. 

Everything that is not going under the hammer for millions or is not hanging on the walls of the mega gallery, or hasn’t been positively critiqued by a particular individual, must we believe, be complete tripe and it’s creator not worthy of holding the title of artist. We believe this because there are people in some areas of the art world who should know better but instead reinforce this notion. 

The point here is that thinking of the art world in this way compounds the issue that we can’t quite bring ourselves to the point of ever truly wearing the badge of being called an artist. We often try to fit in to a corner of the art world that’s has a completely different market to the one that most artists work in. 

creativity takes courage Henri Matisse


We don’t call ourselves artists because...

We think we can’t call ourselves artists because we don’t meet the criteria, or we fear this tiny minority who make up the dark side of the arts. We don’t want to be ridiculed or to be seen as less of an artist so it’s much easier to just we’re into art, but we are still not calling ourselves artists. 

I’ve known some great artists over the years who have real talent, yet they are still too afraid to call themselves real or professional artists. I’m not sure if that’s something to do with the realisation that by calling yourself an artist you suddenly expose your vulnerabilities, or because you figure in your mind that you’re not yet ready to be labelled in the same was as the hundreds of thousands of great masters who came before you, because you don’t feel that you could ever be as good.

I don’t think I have ever met an artist yet who has never experienced self doubt, even the supposedly real ones. 

Being an artist is a heap of hard work. There isn’t a day that goes by when you don’t have to do something else other than paint. One minute you might be answering emails, the next you might be sitting down with your eyes closed and just thinking through a problem, or you might be busy with the other hundred jobs that need your immediate attention. You don’t call yourself an artist because surely being an artist shouldn’t be this difficult.

We don’t call ourselves artists because real artists attend the gallery event every night, they eat canapés and sip Prosecco and Champagne. Life is a constant round of partying and painting when you are a real artist. So instead, we aspire to become an artist but we never take the step of actually becoming one. 

The reality we don’t always get until we eventually make the bold step of calling ourselves an artist, is that these other real artists are more likely to be sipping hot chocolate at 3am meeting a deadline, just like we have to do. 

You might be working a day job or dealing with the kind of stuff that life throws at you generally, justified by the notion that this is contributing to the end goal of one day being able to call yourself an artist.

The problem is that you’re still not ready to call yourself an artist just yet because you don’t feel as committed as you think you should be and have other stuff to do too. Of course real artists never have other stuff to do because they must have assistants. Nope, most real artists are a team of one acting as a team of ten, just like we do. 

We think we can’t call ourselves artists because artists influence the way people see the world. They also influence how people view the art world. The excuse here is that you can’t do that because you think you don’t talk the same language as the critics and the patrons, or even the audience.

Yet the one thing we all know is that to be an artist today means that you have to be unique. Talking your own language in the art world makes you not only unique but also human. Most people, the “your people” we spoke of last week, will probably find this a relief. 


an artist can not fail


Stop with the excuses...

There are a million reasons why we artists are too afraid to call ourselves artists. Some of those reasons are because we don’t have some existing validation or we don’t have a long sales history. Other times we might feel we are not worthy, or because it takes guts to put your artwork out there and doing that makes you vulnerable to real critique because you use the term artist. But isn’t some of that what being an artist is about?

Whether you call yourself an artist or not, it will never stop the amateur wannabe art critics who have read one book and who have strong opinions from expressing them on social media or anywhere else. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself because the moment you have the guts to display your work, some people will love it, others not so much. It doesn’t change because you don’t call yourself an artist. 

The sales history and validation we all crave won’t come until we announce to the world that we are artists. No one seriously buying art goes out thinking, today I am going to buy a piece of art from someone who isn’t an artist. They will still buy from you, but they’ll have made the assumption that you are an artist before you do. 

It’s a catch-22 and I know this from experience because pretty much everything I have written today are the very reasons I laid down as obstacles and excuses before I started to call myself an artist.

Two decades after starting out I learned that there were three things that you have to do to truly become an artist, other than picking up a brush and painting or using your tools of choice.

Firstly you need to give yourself permission to call yourself an artist.  Once you have your own permission, you then have to start calling yourself an artist. You don’t need anyone else’s permission at all. 

Once you have taken that bold and brave step and you start calling yourself an artist, there’s one final thing that you have to do. You have to start believing that you are an artist because if you don’t, then no one else will either.

Three tiny steps that turn you into an artist. Congratulations, you’re now on the path and maybe those voices with the influence might just eventually find you. Now all you have to do is work out the rest of the journey. 

Before you go!

I have a small favour to ask! One of our members of our three groups on Facebook, Christina Ellis, is both a business coach and an artist. Christina is currently running a survey to find out what most frequently holds artists back from realising their full potential.

If you have a spare couple of minutes it would be deeply appreciated if you could help Christina out by completing the survey. The link is right hereMany thanks and I am sure your input is going to be invaluable!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger who has a serious addiction to art, independent artists and great coffee. You can purchase my work right here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com  

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and ensuring that I can continue to write new articles each week to support other independent visual artists. 

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest right here.

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If there are any subjects you would like me to cover in future articles or maybe there is an art event that you would like me to feature in an article, please reach out! You can use the contact form on this site, leave a comment or connect with me through my Facebook page!

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