June 14, 2011

Who Is An Artist?

        There have been a couple of recent disappointments….  I had an outdoor show on Saturday that got rained on.  We were doing all right as long as it was just drizzling.  We had a nice big tent that four of us were sharing, and there were a fair number of folks around…  But then the downpour came and the visitors dissolved away.  We'd have stuck around in the hope that the rain would ease up (as indeed it eventually did), but alas, the tent began to leak!  For a while we tried moving our displays to get out from under the drips, but it was too much.  My loyal family arrived at noon because the original plan was for them to picnic on the green with me at my show… but instead they helped me pack up.  They all helped disassemble the big tent, and then we went across the street to eat indoors at the bagel shop.
        In other news of disappointments in the art world, I recently submitted work to two juried shows and failed to be accepted for either.  I don't usually bother submitting to juried shows because I long ago discovered that my work doesn't appeal to judges.  That's why I decided to skip the Art Establishment and just put my art out for people, many of whom do seem to like it.  But these two shows looked to be right up my alley: one on picture book illustrations and one on stuff with an industrial vibe.  But the judges still didn't care for my submissions.  Whether that's because my work is quite simply not sufficiently high quality compared with the other submissions, or whether it's a matter of Art Establishment taste, I cannot say.  (I do know that I was dubious about my chances of appealing to the judge who ran a high-end contemporary gallery specializing in photography, sculpture, and oils… but I don't want to pull out the sour grapes on this.  I'm really not into the claim of being an Unappreciated Genius.)  Anyway, D used the old "nothing ventured, nothing gained" argument, so I ventured, and I nothing gained.  All this leads me to consider once again the question, "Who is an artist?"
        My favorite answer to that question is very simple: An artist is someone who makes art.  That's what I always told my students, and that's what I tell myself.  But there are plenty of people who will make sure you understand that merely making stuff isn't enough.  Sometimes it's hard to feel like an artist without some sort of Seal of Approval.  Did you get a degree from an art school?  Is your work carried in a prestigious gallery?  Do you show in lots of juried shows?  Do you win prizes?  Those are all Seals of Approval.  They go on your resumé to prove to the world - and to yourself - that you are a Real Artist.  I don't know whether they're satisfying, since I don't have any of those Seals of Approval on my resumé, but my guess is that no matter how much approval you get, most of us always feel like we ought to have more.
        I'm sure D's right that it's good to go out and try to be a little ambitious every once in a while, but I also know that I'm awfully susceptible to the mindset of always looking for more confirmation - so rather than get caught up in it, I try to step away from the game and not play at all...  Just make my art, show it, and be grateful that so many people are willing to share it with me.

[Picture:  April Showers, rubber block print with watercolor detail, by AEGN, 2011. (or, in this case, June showers…Sigh.)]

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