They’re a funny thing, labels. We’re so precious about what we call ourselves, aren’t we… You can be a cook, but not a chef until you’ve had all the professional training. You can write something, but not be a ‘writer’ until you’ve published something. And, you can paint but not be an ‘artist’ until you sell something, or someone in authority says you are, or you make a living out of it…

It makes you think doesn’t it… it certainly makes me think. In fact, I’ve been cogitating quite a bit lately about the label ‘artist’. What defines someone as an artist, I’ve been wondering? Ironically, when I first started painting many years ago, I didn’t hesitate to call myself an artist. It was born out of naivete of course, long before I learned there were rules to be observed.

Then later, when I knew better, I felt I was justified in calling myself an artist because I’d begun to sell my work on a regular basis. After all, the common definition of ‘artist’ at the time was founded on the principles of proficiency and professionalism. Ironically, I dropped the ‘artist’ label like a hot cake when, at art school, a few of my classmates suggested that it wasn’t cool to identify oneself as an artist. It was, in fact, self-indulgent and pretentious. Better to call yourself a ‘painter’ they said.

Which brings me to another, though not unrelated, point. It’s funny, isn’t it, how we often seem to feel more comfortable making ourselves less than we are. Particularly for us women. Certainly, I learned the hard way about keeping myself energetically small. Culturally, too, we in New Zealand tend to avoid becoming tall poppies at all costs lest we get our heads chopped off. Better to play small and play safe.

Maybe the time is ripe for us all to question this self-humbling nonsense. I’ve been reading contemporary opinion pieces from people like Chase Jarvis and Austin Kleon. What they’re saying, in effect, is that it’s time to bury the traditional definitions of ‘artist’. If you see yourself as an artist, then say you’re one! Thumb your nose at the idea that you have to be a ‘professional’, that you have to earn a living from it, that others need to bestow the title upon you. Just show up, do the work and ‘own it’ already.

One of my favourite books is Seth Godin’s ‘The Icarus Deception’.* In it, he also boldly challenges the traditional and boundaried concepts of art and artistry. We are all artists, he says, and the world desperately needs us to show up in all our imperfect, authentic, creative glory. His proposition below convinced me. How about you?

Art is frightening.
Art isn’t pretty.
Art isn’t painting.
Art isn’t something you hang on the wall.
Art is what we do when we’re truly alive.
If you’ve already decided that you’re not an artist, it’s worth considering why you made that decision and what it might take to unmake it.
If you’ve announced that you have no talent (in anything!), then you’re hiding.
Art might scare you.
Art might bust you.
But art is who we are and what we do and what we need.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo.
And an artist takes it (all of it, the work, the process, the feedback from those we seek to connect with) personally.
Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey.
The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul.


*Godin, Seth. The Icarus Deception (pp. 8-9). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.