What does being an artist mean to you?

For the longest time I had trouble identifying with the label of an artist.

It was difficult for me. When I had a brush in my hand, I was one. But when I put on my other various caps – writer, project manager, teacher – was I still considered an artist? I felt like I was juggling too many things at once to be able to catch a ball long enough that truly defined me as one. But as I struggled internally with the question, I finally realized something: being an artist isn’t a label. It’s what you do that truly counts.

Being an artist means putting your best feet forward everyday and to create things that makes a difference; whether that difference is for you, or for others.  That’s what being an artist means to me. Being able to bare your soul for others to pick at, not knowing what brickbats will befall you as you put your work out there.  That’s what being an artist means to me. Being unsure if what you do will resonate with others, but you need to say something all the same. That’s what being an artist means to me. People who have a fear of the unknown, but who are willing to take a chance – to jump in to do the work anyway. That’s what being an artist means to me.

So while I may not fit in the conventional role of being a visual artist, I think of this website, this blog – as my own personal space where I am able to create; just like artists who need a studio, a long worktable and glorious paint – all I need is my laptop, a space and undivided time to call my own, and my trusty computer (an empty notepad will suffice too).

I’m still not sure if I can be called an artist. All I know is that I want my work to matter. My goal is to raise questions, and create an awareness about artists and illustrators and their amazing potential to create, and not just illustrate.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. ~ Edgar Degas

I have a long way to go (and I’m enjoying the ride so far), but here’s hoping I can make you see what I can see.


I’d love to know – what does being an artist means to you? Do you believe what you do is art? What’s your definition of it all?


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27 Replies to “What does being an artist mean to you?”

  1. hallec says:

    i feel like an artist is defined as a visual artist, someone who paints or draws, but even though i also enjoy those, i primarily work as a graphic designer. it also seems like being an artist (even now!) can be seen as negative in the business world (the one in which i work).

    i enjoy working with a variety of mediums whether it is paint or the computer. should we just be defined as “creatives”?

  2. Audrey says:

    For me being an artist is something I always knew I was. Even when I was trying to figure things out, growing up, even when art wasn’t my first priority in life (as a teenager, making friends and going out seemed way more important to me than painting and drawing). Even now that I have sort of defined that I want to make a living out of art, but that I still get creative blocks and spend weeks being stuck. I know I’m an artist because I always want to do things differently. Because I invent stories in my head or that little things inspires me. I know that I’m an artist because nothing feels as satisfying as making and finishing an illustration and then feeling like I’ve given birth. This thing was just a thought, and now it’s a picture that looks nothing like what I’ve seen before. I never felt satisfied from working typical jobs, even when I was praised for it. It’s like, whatever I do is like following a recipe, but then I improvise with it and can’t really follow every instruction to the letter because it gets boring. Sometimes the best recipes are the one you completely made up from scratch 🙂

  3. Wendy Lin says:

    My opinion is that an artist is someone who uses unique skills and talents to CREATIVELY produce works for the enjoyment, entertainment and enlightenment of others, or even oneself. It’s not just visual, but could also be aural (a musician, or a voiceover artist), or culinary (a chef is an artist, but a fast food worker is not), or intellectual. Medicine is a science and an art. A novelist is an artist, but a technical writer isn’t. Is a graffiti artist an artist or a vandal? That is arguable, depending on what is produced, or what is damaged in the process. Is a con artist an artist? Well, it is a specialized skill that requires some study and practice, but it is hardly entertaining, enjoyable or enlightening to be conned. But when the word artist is employed, it usually implies creativity and beauty. I think hallec hit it when she said “creatives”. Thanks for this interesting question, Amy!

  4. Dana says:

    I love this prompt. It goes deep with me:) I used to think an artist was anyone who interpreted the outside world in a creative way. Now I think that an artist is a personality type, which is internally and spiritually based. I believe we glorify our own creator when we make things and add beauty to the world. An artist is someone who is extraordinarily sensitive and able to concentrate deeply on an idea that comes from within and turn it into something unique that excites the senses. When I learn about or other artists as people, I see that we may have little in common in terms of our artwork, but a lot in common personality-wise.

  5. pve says:

    Being an artist is a form of expression of style. Finding one’s medium and ones style is crucial. There can be different periods or phases but still being true to one’s vision.
    An artist needs to listen quietly to one’s voice in order to change or to be heard.

  6. Bethany says:

    This post made me remember my first year in Graphic Design at college. My professor told us that what we were doing was not art! My jaw dropped. I couldn’t understand why design was not art. I switched into art education later and then was hit with aesthetics and the inquiry into “what is art?”. My conclusions were the same as all the other commenters here. Art is just as much a creative process as the end result which communicates something. Art isn’t always beautiful. It is a visual form of expression of ideas. Some contemporary art consists only of instructions– it was the idea that became the “piece”. Purists will say anything pragmatic is only craft, but we have all seen craft that was so creatively conceived and produced! The lines of definition are blurred, but I do think that it is the unique visual communication of ideas– visual personal truth. And I love it!

  7. TJ Lubrano says:

    Art is everything that you can create. This can be with words, images, baking. When you create something that wasn’t there before for yourself or others, I consider that art. For me, I live and breath art. When you said this:
    “Being an artist means putting your best feet forward everyday and to create things that makes a difference; whether that difference is for you, or for others. That’s what being an artist means to me…”

    You said it all. I tried to put my best feet forward by doing everything people expected from me. However, I felt like I blended in and I wasn’t making a difference. Now I am. At first I wasn’t sure of this, but the feedback I get on my art is just amazing and it inspires me to keep on going! 🙂

    LOVED this piece.

  8. Meijie says:

    Hello Everyone,

    First of all thank you Amy for triggering our neurons with such questions.

    I remember my phylosophy teacher telling us how art is a creative peice created for nothing else but to express an idea/message, it didn’t have to be pretty or ugly, it was the message that was important.
    When he explained this to me at the time, I was a bit perplexe, wasn’t sure what to make of it.
    Today as I am a bit wiser than I was at 17 (only a bit more), my definition of artist tends to meet his. I beleive that no matter what medium the person use to express him/herself, it is the need to express the idea in your mind by creating in an esthetic way that makes the artist. In the end, the idea and the wish and need to express and create reveals for me the artist rather than what “beautiful” peice he or she has done or will do.

  9. char says:

    Again Amy you are always there to help us Artists remember we are important…and what we do changes our lives and those of others.
    For me being an Artist is creating daily. whether it be an idea I am working on mentally,or teaching others something the way I see it and how I would go about creating it, or just producing something I can physically hold and say ” this is what I did today”.
    I like being able to create something…like you said, something which arouses emotion in others.
    I love collaborating with others…working through ideas…it’s never tiring, its a constant energy flow.
    Being an Artist is the best Job in the World !

  10. linda says:

    There are the stereotypical images of what “Artist” means… and I think people do usually think of the visual artist and gallery type creatives. However, it’s just a label… perhaps we all have to define it for ourselves! What it means to us… just as we must define what Art means to us!

  11. Goodness this post really hit home! JUST last week I finally came to the realization that it’s OK to call myself an “artist”. And it only took a whopping 34 years of my life 🙂 I’ve always identified myself as a nerd. Yep. That’s me. An artistic nerd. Now I’m proud to say I’ve fully embraced the title of ARTIST, if perhaps a somewhat nerdy artist. But that’s ok too! Being a nerdy artist is definitely an advantage and I’m proud to be making a career of what I’m most passionate about.

  12. Lisa says:

    I am an artist because…
    I imagine
    I think differently in times of need, such as to communicate an idea that others may need to understand
    I take the time to see, to listen to what I see, and I draw what I see even if it doesn’t look like what I see
    I see depth where others may see one dimension
    I appreciate shadow, color, vibrance, contrast
    I feel
    I dream
    I wait
    I express in many different ways

    This may be just creative, but for those who think they don’t have a creative bone in their body, I am an artist.

    Thanks for the forum.

  13. Michael says:

    I am incapable of doing anything other than creatively. It is not a fault but it makes things hard. I can not do the dishes without arranging them or thinking of a new way to do them or not do them. I would be incapable of stocking shelves other than finding a way to do it creatively and differently each time.

    The term artistic has no meaning to me. Being and artist is a profession. I know no person who I would call artistic and really not a person who I would call creative rater they create. I know some dull people and when I get to know them I always find they do know how to create they just do not very often.

    Somewhere along the line creativity got mixed up and limited to art.

    All artists are not creative. I once walked into a gallery and it was like what is the point? Come to find out it was a bunch of at teachers that got a grant to spend the summer painting in a certain region and then display there un-creative art. All artists are not creative.

    Those who make a living as an artist are often delusional that there experiences are unique in ways that are not true. All professions have to deal with rejection, the public not knowing the worth of what they do. I will use and example. A surgeon is gifted and creative. Most DRs could be replaced with a well written software program written by a creative person. Most people believe a professional athlete is doing what the rest of us do only better. They are not they are doing something totally different and only they know that.

  14. Sunshine says:

    What the preceding persons say are true. Indeed, an artist is one who is adept at perceiving what is real or even surreal as well as applying such perception on certain mediums and make them appear pleasant to the eye. It is also true that artistry may take other forms in various endeavors such as being an expert in a certain field of knowledge or profession. If one should like a more heartfelt definition of being an artist, please read the short story “The Last Leaf” by William Sydney Porter a.k.a O. Henry.

    1. Michael says:

      Hey Sunshine,

      I have had the fortune to know artists that are mechanics, welders and heavy equipment operators. It seems they can find the right side of their brain. It is interesting that there artistry seems unlimited to knowledge or profession. A gifted heavy equipment operator can fly a plane or helicopter never having done so before.

      I have known mechanically inclined people that do not get they are not supposed to be able to fix anything even if they have never seen it before. I knew a man who worked in a mill his whole life and never went to school and he bought a player piano in pieces and put it all together.

      I know builders that if you can describe and afford it they can build it. I really does not matter to them.

      1. amy says:

        I love this conversation, thanks for bringing it up Michael!

        Indeed creativity and artistry is not limited to visual arts. Both are a broad term that it does not do justice to just relegate it to the visual arts – artists, illustrators, designers. My internal struggle before stemmed from the fact that both of these traits are celebrated when it can be seen; but what about the ones that are unseen? Is it less artistic or creative when it isn’t shouted out from the rooftops or whose process isn’t as appreciated quite readily from the visual ones? I say no.

        I love embracing the bigger thought about what art is. Which coincidentally, does not that they necessarily need to be in a gallery for that matter.

        Great food for thought.

  15. Michael says:

    And there is what I call the vulgarity of art and commerce. When people ask me how long it took to do any piece I say “Including composition 58 years.”

    I am a environmental scientist which is a fancy name for a person who is licensed by the state to pull certain permits. I can prepare a plan that I can train someone to draw, it takes about 12 hours charge $1,200 to $1,500. I make a unique marble that takes 2 hours and could charge $15 and the materials are about $7

    I came to art late in life and do not ever sell my work. I do trade it. Getting from Quito to Canoa Ecuador was a three marble transaction as I do not speak Spanish.

    It was thought that some work that was done by Ansel Adams was discovered and it was worth millions. Opps not done by him so it is not worth much.

    The commerce of art is about branding. .

  16. Steve says:

    I like to draw.I have a very mechanical technique approach to it. I guess I’m hung up on the craftsmanship. I get this from my dad. He didn’t draw but he knew how to build things, like a tool shed. He was good with wood and concrete. My uncle was talking about how he could build stuff faster than my dad. I asked my dad how come he didn’t answer him back. My dad smiled and said,”Have you seen what he builds looks like?”So when I draw some things I take as much time as I need. I’m an art teacher. Sometimes I sit down and work on the assignments that I give to the kids. I have to admit that I get satisfaction from hearing one my students say,”How did you do that?” I tell them I practice a lot.

  17. sophie says:

    i’m attempting to write an artist statement. something i found very difficult. like u, i find the label, artist, very hard to swallow. as if i’m too pompous or lofty. after reading ur article, i feel as if i’m not alone in this feeling. i too wear many hats in the creative world. a designer, a painter, a maker of sorts.
    thank u for sharing ur insight.

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  19. Dani Bloom says:

    To me being an artist me expressing yourself and creating amazing things because when I draw I feel at peace and feel safe . being an artist is an amazing thing in anybody’s life. You can forget the world around you and you can just relax and do anything ,draw anything you want. Being an artist is life.

  20. Heather says:

    Doing visual art is as important to me as much as living from day to day. Without doing art I feel insane and invisible. I believe it is the language of my soul. My pictures speak the clarity that I cannot articulate .Creating pictures assures that I may be heard. I feel like I am alive when others really view my art and when I create I travel to a sacred place that feeds my soul and then spills out into the world to spread the sacred messages. I get lost in time when I engage in the creative process. Am I an artist?

  21. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about being anartist.

  22. Doing work that you actually believe in, You’re always able to express your creativity

  23. Stephen says:

    For me… being an artist was about sharing my ideas, feelings and thoughts. But I’ve been ignored for so long. That I just can’t do it anymore. I no longer love being an artist.

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