Column: ‘Artist’

Am I an artist?

This is a question that goes through the mind of everyone who digs a little bit into a hobby that is considered an art form, and I’m sure it constantly goes through the minds of people who already consider themselves to be artists. When can I consider myself an artist? And for what reason would I wish to?

For that matter, why are people so eager to join the ranks of a community that is famous for not making money and whose worth seems to be determined by the whim of the audience? Is “artist” a title? Is “artist” a job? Is it a hobby to be pursued by anyone with a trace of talent or ambition? It’s definitely an umbrella term — when someone claims to be an artist, a listener might have a multitude of pictures in their head to detail what the artist does, any of which might be a proper description.

Art is broad beyond compare and the relationship between the creator, the work, the audience and the onlookers is complicated. An argument can be made for its importance and effect on society, and an argument just as compelling can be made for its arbitrariness. Conflicting viewpoints of what art is and what an artist does put the arguments in a gridlock, and these largely philosophical questions remain unanswered.
But there’s no question that art has an impact.

Certainly, if you want to be taken seriously, claiming to be an artist (which comes with all the contradictory definitions and questions of necessity) is a bad start. But is this a reflection of the respect shown toward the arts or just the people who think themselves the creators?

Art garners a lot of respect, whether that be the display of talent and the ability to do something that few others have the talent or the time and patience to complete, or the impact it makes on the audience throughout history. Sure, some art is more respected than others, but it’s safe to say that artists fight for that same level of respect given to great film directors, composers and the occasional da Vinci.

Artists are studied — they are critically considered, written about and read about and put into museums or vaults to be shown to the world and/or protected from it. So how can you not take the modern artist seriously?

You doubt them, of course. This person claims he is a creator in the same vein as the greats. He compares himself to great painters, great performers and great thinkers, all in the utterance of “I am an artist.” Of course you’re not an artist — you are not them, you are you.

Give thanks this hostile reaction isn’t usually vocalized.

But this reaction makes sense, if they really feel the claim is a signal of comparison. The artist lives and dies by the critics. Money is rarely the system by which an artist’s success is determined. Recognition is the key, and though few may admit it, recognition is what the modern artist wants.

Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what an “artist” is because the absolute last thing it is is set in stone. There are many different paths to becoming an artist, and the mistake many people make is choosing to call themselves artists before they’ve done something worthwhile.

Despite wanting to be part of the community, the absolute last thing an artist wants is to fill someone else’s space in that community. They want to carve out their own niche and create on their own terms, whether that be defying convention or even following it, creating or teaching others to express themselves creatively, putting what is unique to them to.

There are plenty of people that use the word “artist” to describe themselves simply because they want to seem more interesting and so others will think that there is a purpose behind everything they do. These people want to be compared, they want to be better than or at least as great as others. I’d encourage those people to give up the title so people who actually make an effort can fill the gaps in the community of artists.

I’d also encourage those who are serious to keep at it, because deep down we all want to be artists, only so many of us are afraid to take on such a daunting title and prove ourselves right.

NICK FREDERICI wants to hear from you. Send your complaints to nrfred@ucdavis.edu.

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