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Rebecca Wise Girson Art Blog

Thoughts on Calling Myself an "Artist"

by rebeccawisegirson , March 31, 2009—12:00 AM

Topics: defining yourself as…, money and art, work and art

At what point did you finally refer to yourself as an "artist"? Was it when you graduated from art school? Was it when you sold your first piece? Or was it when you sold enough that you took the leap and left your "day job" so you could pursue your art full time?

As an artist with a day job, I struggle with actually calling myself an "artist". For example, when meeting new people who ask me what I do, I immediately tell them that I manage a solutions engineering department for a software company. Blank stares usually follow. I assume it's because they either a)have no earthly idea what I'm talking about or b) they're still trying to wrap their heads around me having any form of the word "engineer" in my job title (hey-I have business cards to prove it!). Whatever the case, it would probably be a lot easier if I introduced myself as an artist but I never do. Is it because I have no business cards to back up my claim? Maybe it's because of the way the question is usually framed..."What do you do for a LIVING?" The word "LIVING" indicates making "MONEY". Is it because I make more money with my day job than with my art that I struggle with defining myself as an artist?

I know I shouldn't worry about putting a label on myself. What I do to make money does not define me as a person. I am much more than what I do for money, though sometimes I lose sight of that. If it wasn't for needing an outlet to cope with the stress of my day job, I may never have started painting in the first place. My day job, not my art, is what currently pays for the paint and the canvas I paint on. My day job has enabled me to see the world on someone else's dime and that has had a huge impact on my art. And though it frustrates the hell out of me some days (Ok, most days), I have to admit that I truly thank God for my day job!

So what must I do to feel more comfortable with calling myself an artist? I mean, am I not an artist simply because I create? That alone should be enough (but I'd better get some business cards to prove it).




  CJ Legare

04/08/2009 * 10:58:53

I have struggled for many years with this myself. One day, not long ago, I found myself giving my typical answer, 'I want to be an artist' or one of many versions thereof. I am not sure what made the difference that day, but I stopped mid-sentence and answered very simply, I AM an artist. After that moment, there is no hesitation in answering and quite frankly, it feels good!


  Annie Steiner ( homepage )

04/03/2009 * 00:12:49

My day job business card says "World Renowned Expert - Tbd"... It does not say what kind of expertise I have, and it could be just about anything! As artists, we want to create and get out what we are feeling inside, but we also have to pay bills, eat, and have health insurance.. Sad realities of life? The Starving artist image is a myth. I think having a day job opens your universe, broadens your circle of friends and multiplies acquaintances. The main thing is to keep focusing on the creating part of our lives, and continue to do so.
It is also essential to have FUN at what you do, day job or other! Change it if you don't!


  Bob Ragland ( homepage )

04/02/2009 * 12:30:50

The idea that one isn't an artist because they have a day job is wrongheaded thinking. A real artist will find some way to continue making the art no matter what . To be able to heat, eat and pay bills is very necessary. No one really cares how an artist lives or works. The proof is in the end product.
One has to be secure enough in the discipline to say they are an artist.
I have been an artist for over forty years.
See interview.


  W. Frank Thompson

03/31/2009 * 19:55:45

Identifying myself as an artist, took a few firsts. The first first was showing a painting to someone outside the family. The second, was entering a piece in an art exhibition. The third, was exhibiting as an artist at a local arts festival. The fourth was being accepted by a gallery.

The selling of my art work helped support the identity as an artist. Acceptance by other artists further established the identity.


  Mike Barr ( homepage )

03/31/2009 * 19:28:53

Mary is dead right.
I know lots of people who have the label 'full-time artist' but they all have support working spouse!
I dont have any financial support system..therefor I do have a full-time day job and I paint at night and weekends when I can. I paint prodigiously and it no one guesses that I have a day job too and are shocked when they learn the truth - almost as if it demaeans in someway my standing as an artist.
I do regard myself as an artist though.
I do have an artist business card and website. I write articles for art magazine, do public painting demonstations. Have solo exhibitions and have sold well. Damn right I'm an artist. In fact I considered myself such well before I became successful!
Get those cards printed!


  Mary lawler ( homepage )

03/31/2009 * 14:36:32

The point that you reach in your life where you start calling yourself an artist is when you feel comfortable and confident saying it without a following disclaimer. Many of us have more than one job, or a support system in a spouse or partner that provides us with health insurance, and a "steady" income.
I do lots of things, too many really but I got tired of explaining the maze of that and now I just say "Artist".
Everyone assumes you are a painter, which I am not. So I sometimes have to say "Collage Artist" or "Calligrapher" which also gets met with blank expressions. Much like when I say that I do marketing, search engine optimization and social media for an online gallery and community for artists. Basically you are going to have to further explain something.
I'm tempted sometimes to say "Sky Diving Instructor" or "Cashier at KMart" just to see the response, spoken or otherwise.
Right now my business cards reads "Makes Executive Decisions Without Authority". I don't know, have fun with it.


  Peter Barnett

03/31/2009 * 11:06:58

Ask Annie (Steiner). She's an artist, but she also has her ArtID business card, which proclaims her a "World Renowned Expert". It declines to be specific. Actually, though you shouldn't need cards to call yourself an artist, they do a world of good toward having people take you seriously.

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