Writing

Would You Call Yourself An Artist?

 

 

During a recent visit, my mother-in-law sat at the kitchen table admiring my six-year-old son’s artwork. 

“Oh, it’s so beau-ti-ful,” she said. Then, turning my way, “He’s really an artist!”

I smiled, and gave my standard reply, “Thanks, but you know he didn’t get it from me.” 

Because, seriously, I can’t draw. I also can’t paint, sew, decorate, cut out snowflakes, or assemble cardboard boxes. Yeah, he didn’t get it from me.

However, my MIL wasn’t going to let me get away with my usual compliment-controlling standby.

“Well, Amanda” she said, “you’re an artist, too. Your writing is your art.”

Hmmmmmm……

Now, that was a kind thing to say, and a statement I know my mother-in-law (as a kindred writing soul) truly believes. However, I must admit that it made me a little uncomfortable. 

When I think of an artist, the first images that comes to mind are of an easel and a paintbrush. A musician and an instrument. A singer. A dancer. A stage. Or, even a scrap booker with a pile of teddy bear stickers and rainbow cardstock nearby.

And, definitely a beaming six-year-old holding a picture of the ocean.

But, then I think of writing.

If art “is the product of human creativity,” then of course the dreamers with pen in hand should also be included. How can I forget the great poets? Or, the literary icons? Ditto for the Stephen King’s of genre who weave the art of storytelling in a more commercial form. And, what of the rest? The midlisters. The unknowns. The many writers I meet in this virtual world — some published, some aspiring — whose words connect with readers across states and imaginary lines. No, I wouldn’t begrudge any of them the title of “artist.” In fact, I’ll happily bestow it.

But, I wouldn’t choose it for myself.

Maybe my reluctance stems from an aversion to “titles” which often seem like a prize for the best of the best. Some ART, in all its high falutin’ glory, has appeared a mystery to all except the geniuses of the flock. They become the artists. The rest are, well, just minions.

Or, maybe my problem relates directly to what I’m currently writing — stories about middle grade boys and their ungraceful adventures which don’t exactly fit into a typical artsy mold. I mean, the other day I actually wrote a scene that began with, “That’s fart-tastic!”  Of course, my sons (with their love of gastronomic humor) have now deemed me the goddess of literature, but I’m not sure the rest of the world would be as impressed.

The definition of art, like beauty and good 80’s music, is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney song, “The Girl is Mine” is art. And, since I’m a lover not a fighter, I’ll leave them to their fantasy.

Yes, it’s a tricky situation. It is subjective, folks, and it’s up for debate. Art is the sculpture in the city center, but it’s also the hand-stitched flying cat curtains in your neighbor’s living room.

I’m in awe of those with such curtain-type craftiness. For their DIY dexterity, and their ability to make a room feel inspired. Those skills are also art to me, and the crafty ones are the artists.  But, to them? It’s just something they do. It’s something they love.

Writing is something I do, too. And, the love part? Yup. It’s also there.

Me, an artist? No.

But, you? Most definitely.

****

Do you call yourself an artist? Is that title up for grabs? Is it easier to give that title to someone else?

Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

Note:  In case you missed it here, my post, A Book Lover’s Walk of Shame, was given new life over at KLZ’s Taming Insanity yesterday.  KLZ is one of my favorite mommy bloggers, so I hope you’ll pop over to her place and look around. Many thanks!

*photos via clip art

37 thoughts on “Would You Call Yourself An Artist?”

  1. You’ve articulated something I’ve felt for a long time, Amanda. Yes, I’m a writer, and writing is an art . . . but somehow I’ve never embraced the title for myself. I feel more comfortable saying I know the “craft” of writing more than I know the “art.” Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters in the long run, since we’ll keep on writing and putting our creativity out in the world anyway. But interesting to think about!

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    1. I feel more comfortable with “craft,” too, but even that can appear pretentious when coming from the wrong mouth. (Not yours.) I think there is a bit of magic/mystery that surrounds the writing profession. The stories themselves can be magical, but behind the scenes it’s often just a lot of cursing and floundering 😉

      Thanks for reading, Maureen!

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  2. Nice post! I don’t call myself an artist or even a writer, even though it’s sort of obvious that I have been writing for a long time. But I’m from a middle-class, Midwestern background and ‘writer’ or ‘artist’ just aren’t titles I feel comfortable with, you know? If it makes you feel better, an artist I know — I mean, he actually makes pictures and prints and paintings for a living — doesn’t like to call himself an artist either. That’s probably why I like him better than most artists I’ve met…or worse yet artistes.

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    1. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing?

      I’m fine with “writer.” Writers write — it’s an act they choose/need to do. Even if they’re on a long hiatus, but wish they could be writing…they’re a writer.

      Artist, (and, yeah, artiste)? What differentiates the writer from the artist?

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  3. If art “is the product of human creativity,” then of course the dreamers with pen in hand should also be included.

    I like that! But I don’t consider myself an artist, although I would definitely consider C.S. Lewis to be one, for example. I think a lot of people can write, but not everybody can creatively write, using imaginary characters and worlds in a way that captures the reader’s attention.

    But that’s just my subjective thoughts 🙂

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  4. Amanda, great topic. I think of myself as artistic, but I’ve always gone out of my way not to refer to myself as an artist. When I was actually working as an illustrator, I was an illustrator. I believe an artist (in the fine art world) is someone who creates from a passion, a need to express, no matter the financial benefits. I am not that person as far as illustration goes. Don’t misunderstand, I was so grateful to make money at it once upon a time, but I ceased drawing for my own pleasure long ago (of course, I draw Barbies and ballerinas at the drop of a hat for my daughters, and savor that immensely!)

    Now, writing is a different story–and maybe why I understand the distinction. I write to write. I write because I can’t NOT write. Like we all do, right? If that is what consitutes an artist, then heck, yeah! We’re artists! (Always makes me think of the end of Toy Story 2 when Barbie announces to Stinky Pete that his new owner is an “artist” before revealing her markered-up face!)

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    1. Yes, and, we’re starving artists at that, right Erika?!

      I find it really interesting that even when you were working as an illustrator you didn’t claim “artist” as your own. If not that person, than who?

      And, yes — artists create from passion and a need to express…but still, I’m hung up on that word.

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  5. I’ve known I was an artist my entire life. Years ago my husband argued with me over this very issue but I wouldn’t be swayed. Recently he told me he was wrong. That, in fact, I am an artist. There’s nothing quite like being recognized. It surely warms the soul.

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    1. First, you do exist! Not sure about the URL mess-up.

      Second, thanks for your comments. I really admire your confidence.

      It’s interesting to me how some people have such problems with simply calling themselves “writers” in the first place. I own up to “writer,” but “artist” just doesn’t suit me.

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  6. I think artist is a term someone else places on you. Amanda, you are an artist. To take words and paint a picture that becomes a book that middle grade boys can connect to (assuming you are not middle grade or a boy) is an art. As writers I see us sell ourselves short too many times. When we are praised for our books we blush, stammer, and say “it was nothing, just some writing.” Oh, how easily we forget the long hours, the rejections, the days of not knowing where the story was going. To others, the art of putting words together into sentences, in paragraphs, then into a story is magical. Let’s not take the magic away from them.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jill. First, let me make clear that I didn’t write this post fishing for affirmation 😉 And, believe me, I don’t discount the hours and heart that goes into writing. I just wonder about the term “artist,” and what it means to those who use it.

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  7. But you know, I’ll bet the guy with an easel and paint brush probably feels the way you do. “I’ve got the tools,” he might agree. “But I ain’t no Claude Monet.”

    I think it’s that whisper of self doubt that makes us bestow the word “artist” on everyone but ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and only come away with how we’re different. And then, we assume those differences are wrong.

    If you were to take a vote, I bet you’d be overwhelmed be the readers (myself included) who would hand you the artist’s crown. Own it, sister! But remember–with great power comes great responsibility. 😉

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    1. Ha…love your last line! I think I’ll stick with “writer,” though, thanks. Maybe self-doubt is part of it. I know that’s what stops many from calling themselves writers. But, for me, I think it’s more the connotation that the word carries.

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  8. My daughter want’s to be an artist when she grows up (she’s 7). She won’t get that from me. I’m still not ready to call myself a writer.

    (PS – My son will love fart-tastic.)

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  9. So interesting. Because I paint, I’ve always defined myself as an artist. But I had way more difficulty defining myself as a writer. I could paint, and I could display my painting. But in order to be a writer, I had it that someone else had to accept me (in other words, publish me). But creating writing and painting and dancing and playing an instrument are all artistic endeavors, all expressions of ourselves and of how we see the world. Defining ourselves as artists or writers of whatever is a statement of how we see ourselves.

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  10. Just yesterday I read this quote from another blogger: “We name things as artistic when we want to draw attention to them as things we want to look at and admire over and over again, because when we looked at them the first time, they made us respond in some way that was thoughtful or emotional or satisfying.”
    I like this definition because it allows for art to provoke as well as just be beautiful.
    I also think that “fart-tastic” fits that definition….

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  11. I have never been called artistic in my life. Stick figures are challenging. I’ve been called nice things as far as writing goes, and certainly it’s a creative pursuit, but the whole thing depends on how you define the term. If singers and musicians are musical artists then I guess we can be literary artists. I prefer terms like wordsmith or craftsman or someone with the ability to make you a) leak from your eyes b) spit beverages involuntarily or c) pee yourself a little.

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  12. This is an interesting question, Amanda…

    My mother was an artist/photographer, and it skipped my generation (I draw as well as any 7-year-old)…I think of myself more as a “craftsman” or “wordsmith”, because I take words and manipulate them in (what I hope are) creative ways. I do identify myself as a writer (or a journalist, depending on the piece), and I’m happy with those terms.

    Wendy

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  13. I’m not nearly creative enough to be called an artist. I wouldn’t be comfortable if someone labeled me as such, and I would feel the need to correct them. I can see the argument that ‘artist’ could apply to a writer, but in my mind, I just can’t accept it for me. Now if I had other artistic talents, maybe it wouldn’t feel so wrong 🙂

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  14. I know a fantastic potter who says she’s not an artist, although I would disagree. She produces beautiful work & is the most amazing teacher, and because she feels her pieces to be functional, she describes herself more as an artisan.
    I think that everyone has an ‘artist’ within them – what that artist does is different for everyone. You, my dear Amanda, use words as your medium, for others it’s paint, or clay, or twigs & bits of string, or the ability to make a whole room rock with laughter.
    For my husband, he’s discovered his inner artist is a baker, and spends his spare time producing wierd & wonderful bread varieties (cheese + marmite is my favourite).
    Each to his own, and isn’t it a wonderful world as a result!
    (love Sharon who, despite it being stupidly cold, is feeling springlike & hopeful todayxx)

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  15. Tried out ‘That’s fart-tastic!’ on the kids.
    You are now their literary hero. It’ll be all around the playground by Monday lunchtime.

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  16. Hmm, you know, this is a very interesting question. When I first saw that you’d written that you don’t consider yourself an artist, I assumed it was for the same reason as I – because of low self-esteem and low confidence in what I write and how I write it. But then, I also greatly fear labeling myself a “writer” although I know that I am one. You, however, have no problem with calling yourself a writer – and, obviously, you ARE one! So why not artist?

    Why, indeed… I understand completely the way you define art in your own mind – I have many of the same associations when I think of ART. But, then again, I think of myself as a reader – stories are to me what great paintings are to others: they’re a world that I can fall into, a world I put myself into, a world I can admire for its craft, for its characters, for its beauty or pain. So although I understand why you hesitate to call yourself an artist, I would call you one myself.

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  17. I love this, Amanda, because like you, I never have – or plan to – call myself an artist. ‘Artist’ to me is pretentious. It doesn’t mean that I don’t value art. And perhaps it’s a moniker that should be applied posthumously when a body of work can truly be evaluated. As for “The Girl Is Mine,” well, you’re just plain crazy. Because that truly is a work of art.

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  18. beautiful post. i can really relate to this. some people would call me an “artist” but i get uneasy calling myself an “artist” just because i write. howver, it’s also true writers paint through words. if painters have “types of painting” like naturalistic, impressionistic, abstract, etc. probably, some writers who have wild imaginations like c.s.lewis may be catgorized as one type of the writer-artist.

    Creative writers use words to imitate life. so yeah, they are artists. and the “fart-astic” is a play of words, just like artists do to the viewers-play with their imagination.

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