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almost final: definition of an artist(long)

updated fri 24 aug 01


Timothy Sullivan on wed 22 aug 01

I think that what is important about calling ourselves an artist, potter,
sculptor, painter, craftsmen, etc. is that we are choosing a context in
which we would like to have our work viewed. If I say I am an artist, then I
am asking that the work be viewed/critiqued in that context. If, instead, I
say that I'm a functional potter, then I have established a different context
for my work. In my opinion, neither is de facto better than the other, but I
believe that they are different. I've seen people use the word "vessel" to
shift their work into a different context as well (as in "I make vessels, not
pots"). I also think that it would be unrealistic for me to call myself a
sculptor if I was making functional casseroles, or to call myself a
functional potter if I was making 10 foot tall teapots.

I think that people that work with functional forms, but that are concerned
with visual issues beyond utility, have always struggled to find a context
that was relevant to their work. "Functional Potter" doesn't seem to fit
exactly, and I'm not sure that "Fine Artist" does either. Perhaps this is
what has driven this debate. If you don't work within a functional paradigm
it's easy, you just call yourself a sculptor or a painter and move on.

Tim in Atlanta

Terrance Lazaroff on wed 22 aug 01

I have waited almost a week for responses to this posting before trying to
my statements. I feel that we sometime loose our direction and go off on a
tangents. Everyone put forward their philosophy in an attempt to come up
with a satisfactory definition of Artist. Some among us just criticized the
responses while others attempted to put forward their views in a very
positive and subjective manner. Some associated creativity to the definition
of artist others talked about the beauty of someone's work or discussed the
lifestyle as that which determined who is and artist and who is not. Yet I
noticed that there were few responses that actually wanted to commit to
putting forward a definition that would stand up to the scrutiny of the
members of our list.

Let's look at what we got.

I wrote:
"Determining the definition of artist is like trying to understand
William's: "to be or not to be".".

My own words. I don't know why I stated this as it has nothing to do with
this question. Maybe I was just confused. I have since looked up the
definition of artist in the Oxford dictionary.

It states that an artist: is one that practices, one of the fine arts.

I won't go into what defines fine art as this subject could be as large as
the history of mankind. I do believe however, that the key word in this
definition is "practices".

So I Again opened the Oxford dictionary and it stated the meaning for
practice as: perform, habitually carry out an action
This answers the response of Vince to my statement: "Remember that creating
is one thing, being an artist is another."
Vince stated: That is indeed an odd thought. I'd like to hear you elaborate
on that.

Well Vince, I believe that it is the practice of art that differentiates:
the person who, has the ability to create art but, does not practice this
ability, from those who habitually practice creativity as an artist. In
other words, anyone at any age can create a work of art, but unless they
continually practice this ability of creating they are not artists they are
just artistically inclined.

I wrote:
We can strive towards becoming an artist by declaring ourselves as an
artist. This action does not however, satisfy the criteria that makes us an
artist in the eyes of those around us.

I still stand by this statement.

We must declare ourselves as artists if we wish to be recognized as such. We
may not be great artists, our work may not meet the expectations of a grade
one art student, our medium may not be of the noble materials such
as bronze or oil paint. Nevertheless the need to declare ourselves as
artists is as fundamental as the philosophy of the early Greeks. When the
early Greeks were forming their civilization they complied with many
commands of which one was: "Know thyself". In addition to declaring
ourselves as artists we must meet other criteria in order to be recognized
by those around us.

I wrote:
> The term, "artist", is bestowed upon us by outside forces.
> Whether we like it or not these forces,establish the criteria that will
> allow them to call us as artists. We can cry foul till the cows come home
> but this will not change the fact. In addition, they must establish the
> category of artist for clarity's sake. Example: ceramic artist, con
> mechanical artist, musical artist, visual artist, culinary artist,
> decorative artist, professional artist, amateur artist, sculptor,
> illustrator, printer, engraver and the list goes on and on.

Vince responded with:
No no no no no. Sorry to be so adamant, but as an art teacher I have spent
fifteen years trying to deal with this attitude. The terms "fine artist" or
"good artist" are bestowed upon worthy artists by outside forces. But as I
have repeatedly said, the term "artist" contains no qualitative measure at
all. It simply means someone who actively makes art as an avocation or
vocation. And since in this day and age we cannot define precisely what art
is, then anyone actively creating anything they think of as art is entitled
to the appellation "artist." It's as simple as that.

Vince. My statement did not try to establish a qualitative measure. I
stated that the term, (label), artist is bestowed upon us by outside forces.
Whether the work of an artist is good, fine or great has nothing to do with
the definition of and artist. The term is bestowed upon us by outside
forces providing we meet the criteria established by them.

Merrie wrote:
I dressed in black heels, black slacks and blouse, black gloves, black hat
with black veil, black sunglasses and red lipstick. I entered the party the room was full. Only the hostess recognized me and came toward
me, took my arm, lead me over to the birthday boy. We passed by some ladies
sitting on a couch. One said to the other,"Who is that ?!?!" A friend
whispered, "That's Merrie, she is an artist.".

Merrie was making a statement that has a lot to do with this subject. First
she dressed in a fashion that outside forces saw as the fashion of an
artist. They in turn bestowed the term artist on her. She met the criteria
established by the social group where she lived. This doesn't mean the she
is a great artist nor a fine artist. She was just called artist.

Marianne wrote:
I have no diploma or degree in art. No gallery has looked at my stained
glass work. Am I an artist? My reply is yes.

Marianne has declared herself as an artist. But is she in the eyes of the
outside forces? For example: If she was to apply for a grant in order to
research her medium, would she be successful in getting the grant without
convincing the organization that she is an artist? In order to do so she
would have to meet the criteria of the organization giving out the money.
They would accept her statement that she is an artist but I am sure they
would request letters of recommendation from peers or other art
organizations. They would want to ensure that she is a practicing artist
and thus impose conditions to prove such. Yes Marianne is an artist but
the outside forces will be the ones that establish her credentials.

Iandol wrote:
Chicken and Egg. do you define artist to get a Thread on Art or define art
to get a lead on Artist.

I am still trying to understand the nature of this question.

I wrote:
Who are these forces? They are organizations, bureaucracies, governments,
international bodies, academics, associations, guilds, the public, customs
agencies, tax accountants, curators and most important peers.

Vince responded:
Aaaarrrgggghhhh. Thank god this is not true.

Vince whether you like it or not it is true.

When I fill out my Tax forms I respond that I am an artist, In order to
qualify for the tax breaks, such as the first $15,000 net revenue from
copyright payments is non taxable. I must prove to the government that I am
and artist. Their definition of who is an artist must be met.
When I apply for the tax break for city business taxes because of an art
friendly city, policy. I must meet certain criteria imposed by the city to
ensure I am a bon-a-fide artist and not just someone looking for a break on
their city tax bill. When I apply for government grants to research my art,
I must send a dossier containing proof that will allow them to ascertain my
claim that I am an artist. They check my file to ensure that I meet the
criteria as artist.
When I stand to ask a question to the executive council of my art
organization I must have met the criteria imposed by this organization
before I could be a member. I could refuse to do so but would I be able to
be a member of the art community if I did not participate in the
organizations that support the artists?
I am also sure you had to meet the criteria imposed upon you when you
applied for the job as teacher at the college.

I wish to be clear at this time that I would not agree to presenting a
portfolio of work for judgement as a prerequisite to meeting the criteria of
any organization.

I wrote:
Every organization establishes their own criteria.

Vince responded:
Which shows you exactly how pointless and arbitrary such judgement is.

Some have criteria in order to determine the dues required to be a member.
For example the Quebec Ceramic Guild charged less for an emerging artist
than for an established artist. Thus the criteria is different for each
class of member.
The city of Montreal gives two prizes each year for the arts: One is for
artists under 35 yr. and the other is for all other ages. This is to
encourage young artists as well as the established art community.

Government exchange programs have some for youth and others for established

I wrote:
The candidate shows or publishes or is represented in public, and/or
distributes his work through agents.

Vince responded:
What in the world does this have to do with whether or not the "candidate"
is an artist?

By showing and publishing works one adds to the credibility of his desire to
be recognized as and artist. I wouldn't spend all this energy debating with
you if I did not know your credentials. The fact that you have taken the
time and energy to put your knowledge down in print tells me that you are a
bon-e-fide artist. You work at your art, you teach your art, you show your
art, you write and publish your art, and everyone on this list gives you the
respect earned. I don't have to ask to see your portfolio to prove you are
and artist. Your actions is proof enough. The fact that everyone writes a
bit on this list gives me the knowledge that I am talking with my peers, and
fellow artists.