Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What Is An Artist?

oil on board 2016
pencil sketch, 1952
 oil paint sketch circa 1999

Is an (visual) artist anyone who makes marks on paper, canvas, walls, floors with paint, pencil, pen or anything else?
One does not have to have an official certificate to call oneself an artist. In San Miguel de Allende, where I have lived for 13 years, it seems anyone can step off the plane, move into San Miguel and call themselves an artist. I personally know several who have done that. People perhaps are re-inventing themselves from a career in accounting, teaching school, real estate, etc. and are inspired by the big, thriving arts community here. One woman, a successful writer of books on behavior of children told me, " I have decided to be an artist". I sat next to her in a life drawing session and could not believe what she was producing. In my opinion she couldn't see, draw or begin to understand the human body. She was happy and satisfied.

There is nothing wrong with that and I personally have taught hundred of people the encaustic technique. Almost all had fun, some serious ones took up encasustic painting and others were entertained by moving the colored wax with the heat source.

I believed that one needed to earn the title of artist. I loved my classical training where we were only allowed to work in black and white the first semester and draw, draw, draw, until it was perfect.

When I was five years old, I decided that I would be an artist. I drew every spare moment. Visiting the Chicago Art Institute as a little girl, I remember sitting in front of Flemish still life’s, enraptured with the sensuousness of the paint, the color, and the depth of feeling the paintings provoked in my young mind. I told myself that someday I would be able to create similar work. There was no doubt in my mind.

As a child I occupied my days with my own creativity – drawing, painting and writing stories. In grade school, I ignored the arithmetic assignments. The schoolwork wasn’t my reality. All I wanted to do was draw.

Oil painting classes started when I was a pre-teen, and I fell in love with the smell of the paint. I couldn’t imagine why other people didn’t see what I saw, or weren’t as ardent about making art.

I married before I finished my last year of art school and I began working for two publishing companies, making tiny illustrations of oil wells, haystacks and other symbols for school maps. I illustrated children’s stories for the second publishing company, but was fired when I became pregnant with my first child.

During my second marriage, I went back to art school and continued to paint. It was challenging. I felt as if there were conspiracies against me. My parents, husband, and various people in the community told me to get a real job,

The passing years tested my self-confidence. I wondered if I could really call myself an artist - could I create anything of value to humanity or even to my community? I judged myself harshly and “gave up painting forever and ever” at least once a year, but always came back to start a new series. To call myself an artist I believed was an honor to be earned with hard work, the ability of creating what has not been made before, sacrifice, dedication, and daily work. Learning to trust my inner direction rather than clinging to intellectual reasoning was my greatest lesson in art and in life.

It now is 62 years since I had my first professional art job and I am still learning. I make art, teach and sell my work. I believe now I am qualified to call myself an artist.

My first real abstract. Casein on illustration board, 1953               

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