What do you do?
This is generally one of the first questions you get asked when introduced to someone new. So there is a relevance to this question. We need to be able to define what we do to other people. If we can’t when asked, we might come of as insecure or arrogant.
For artists it can often be hard to define what exactly it is they do. They find themselves asking, “What makes me an artist, and how can I justify calling myself an artist, when my main income comes from something besides art?”
This is not relevant being a nurse, a policeman or a cashier, because these nouns come with a clear definition. First answer would probably lead to more specific questions as what kind of nurse, where, how long etc. But because an artist is more of a caption than a noun, it can often be easier using a more relatable term when talking to a layman.
Many artists are in a constant dilemma of whether or not they should call themselves artists. Not only because of their multiple activities, but also in regards to the expectations in relations to themselves, their practice and other people.
Many artists use their daily experiences as inspiration in their artworks. Things happening around us influence us all and art is a response to our reality. It tells us something about our society, the people living in it, the nature surrounding us etc. So when being an artist, observing people will be in the eye of an artist, when eating, it will be in the eye of an artist, because one never knows when inspiration will come. Being an artist is not a job but really a lifestyle. But if one is an artist whilst scrubbing the toilet, does this mean that everyone is an artist?
Not everyone is an artist, and not everything an artist produces is art. There is a difference in being an artist and a non-artist.
Even though many artists have a second job to support them financially, their artwork still has to hold the intension of art to be art. The artwork needs an audience to become art. Only in dialog with an audience a piece can become real.
So why do so many artists hesitate to deem themselves as artists?
One of the main factors of this is, not only having trouble defining themselves within an abstract term, but embarrassment plays an important role as well.
There is an irony to this. In the beginning of the artist’s career they are embarrassed to call themselves artists, because they have another job to support them.
Later on they are embarrassed to say that they have another job to support them, because they call themselves artists.
The other element to this embarrassment is that art is not a necessity, but considered a luxury. Something supposedly for the Elite.
There may be a grain of truth to this. Looking at the demography of who become artists; the majority is white upper/ higher middle class people. And art is a privilege, because we live in a part of the world that is well educated and can afford to practice and support art.
So this embarrassment arises from either modesty or pretentiousness.
Modesty because an artist has the ability to effect people’s lives and thoughts, but art does not matter to people, when it comes to the daily struggle for survival.
So when telling that they are artists, they are afraid that other people will perceive them as pretentious.
But is this concern, of being perceived as self indulgent, not only an expression of how the artists perceive themselves? We are never able to verify what other people think of us, and often it is a reflection of our self-image. What they believe people think of them is really born as an anxiety in their own mind.
Would they have trouble labeling themselves as artists, if it didn’t make them feel a bit better than anyone else?
Everyone has their place in a functional society, and artists depend on people giving interest in their work to be able to keep producing them. Like previous stated the audience makes the artworks come to life. So whether or not they choose to claim themselves as artists or something else. It tells us more about how they see their identity, as either always an artist or ever an artist.