Category Archives: Advice

What is an Artist?

A few weeks ago over on Twitter, I saw someone who discretely sought advice on their artwork and on approaching galleries receive in return a public shaming and the judgement: they are not an artist.

I was appalled that somebody in my profession would treat another person in this way. Instead of saying to them privately that they should perhaps build up a wider body of work, or explain that galleries are now looking for styles such as ‘x’, to gently let that person know that they needed to improve their work a little, they decide to do this publicly, which of course invited others to discuss it.

This got me thinking about the word ‘artist’. Being an artist comes way before anybody takes an art class. Being an artist can strike at any age and any time; when you wake up each day and feel the need to be creative – to draw or paint or sculpt then you, my friend are an artist!

“To be an artist is to believe in life” — Henry Moore

Ability does not come into it. The many prefixes that can be attached to the word ‘artist’ such as ‘good’, ‘rubbish’ or ‘professional’ are merely opinion and are totally subjective. Any dictionary describes an artist as ‘a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession… or as a hobby‘, so those opining that ‘an artist’ is of a certain calibre are misinforming their followers. How must it feel to read this and feel that they cannot call themselves an artist because they weren’t good enough? Good enough for whom? Unfortunately this can turn people away from something that they enjoy, find relaxing and go into to escape the worries of life. Statements like this can cause people to lose confidence and give up doing what they enjoy – something that no tutor ever wants to see.

“He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist” — St Francis of Assisi

Our role is to inspire and encourage at every stage. An artist is simply someone that enjoys being creative – being ‘good’ or making money from it doesn’t come into it. There are many paintings by trained ‘professional’ artists that I wouldn’t give hanging space to, and paintings by untrained ‘beginner’ artists that have captured the essence of a subject that I would gladly have on my wall. It can often be forgotten that people use social media and internet resources such as blogging, rather like a diary.

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” — Pablo Picasso

Setting up a Facebook page or a website to show their paintings isn’t so much saying ‘look at me, aren’t I amazing?’, it is a way for artists to keep their artwork all in one place, to show what they are achieving and in the hope they may sell a few pieces to people that like what they do. It is a good way of displaying your portfolio of work to people and what is important is the feedback that can be given which will drive the artist into new directions and deeper into their chosen field.

The public does not have to ‘like’ or view these pages, nor do they have to feel compelled to order a commission or buy the work. So if you enjoy painting, drawing, sculpting and creating then please call yourself an artist – the world needs more people like you. Fill Facebook and the internet with your artwork and enjoy yourself. Not everyone may like it, but as long as you do then it is okay! 

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art” — Andy Warhol

Looking Back to Go Forward

Sometimes we have to look back to go forward in art. Having my art shop in a wonderful old town, when I get a quiet moment I peruse the many shelves of my local antiquarian and second hand bookshop, heaving with weighty tomes of artists of years gone by and I find out so many ideas and techniques that I then buy the said books and add them to my own bookshelves!

I think in art it is important to look back at the techniques and methods of the old Masters: these artists have been revered for centuries and are what artists aspire to be like, yet these methods are scarcely taught and in fact the only places they are taught are during art history lectures and often not to practising artists wanting to deepen their knowledge and understanding of art. By looking back at these methods, I have learnt so much more than I ever did during my time at college studying art.

I also got me thinking about a quote that I have printed out and hung as a banner in my classroom:

“That which we call failure is often that necessary struggle called learning”.

My students occasionally say to me how frustrated they feel as their work sometimes doesn’t look like it’s getting better. There are a few things I say to help them see that they are improving even if a little slower than they had hoped. Firstly, the knowledge that is in our head (techniques we learn in an art class for example) can take several years to reach the end of our fingers in skillful rendering of that technique, so it may take a while before what is in your head gets rendered on paper. With that in mind, I ask my students to critique their work after they have finished their painting and ask themselves ‘if I were to paint this again, what would I do differently?’ and if they can see that a few techniques could be altered, or the use of colour or that the perspective isn’t quite right, that shows great learning, even though it may not be obvious from the execution of the painting that is before them. Also, I tell my students to keep their paintings in a file – even the ones they’re not happy with. This way, when they are having a bad day, they can look back at their old paintings and see how far they have come and even though they may not be pleased with the latest painting, it is a lot better and shows more skill than their earlier works.