Am I an artist?
Almost inevitably, when I meet someone new and we begin a discussion about art and creativity, there comes a moment when my new acquaintance asks the question; "Are you an artist?" With no intention of being evasive, or enacting idle Socratic exercises -- although I do love intellectual gymnastics! -- I feel the urge to answer their question with another question: "How do you define artist?"
Does simply making art make one an artist? Or does the work need to be commercially viable? Does an artist need to specialize in a particular medium or discipline? Or can she generalize? Is studying art a prerequisite? And if so, for how long? What disciplines are defined as 'art'? Is there a difference between an 'artist' and a 'designer'? Is an architect or an interior designer an artist? Is an engineer an artist? No one can deny that these are all creative disciplines, but are they art? What is the difference between art and creativity?
Okay, make that thirteen questions....
I hang out at galleries and attend exhibition openings. I take classes in art history and curation. I practice drawing and I color while listening to music when I need to clear my mind. These days, I spend most of my free time with artists - most often discussing art, and I watch art documentaries and artist biopics at home for entertainment. I spend most of my internet-surfing time looking at and reading about art, artists, performances and design products. I sell art and I buy it when I can. In my spare time I attend live musical performances, dance performances and plays. I dance a couple of times a week. I have spent most of my career life in the designer fashion business which, according to Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way", would classify me as a "shadow artist." I'm planning to take sewing lessons so I can create some original clothing for myself; my ideas rooted in decades of working with textiles and bodies in motion. I write blog posts, have written 500 pages of a 300-page book about my travels and recently, I have embarked on some fictional work which I am still too timid to share. Art and creativity are really the only things that interest me deeply at this point in my life.
But am I an artist? What does it mean to be an artist? What is the core definition of an artist?
Eastern Philosophies have always exhorted people to be artistic in the living of life; think of the artistry of a Samurai with a sword, the elegant simplicity of Haiku, the practice of arranging flowers with exquisite simplicity and creating a perfect tea ceremony. These ideas resonate deep in my soul and surface in every thought, every decision about creating my own lifestyle. Does living with artistry make one an artist?
“I think everything in life is art; what you do, how you dress, the way you love someone, and how you talk, your smile and your personality, what you believe in, and all your dreams, the way you drink your tea, how you decorate your home, or party, your grocery list, the food you make, how your writing looks and the way you feel. Life is art.” ― Helena Bonham Carter
By Helena Bonham Carter's definition, everyone is an artist, intentional or otherwise and, here we are opening a whole new can of worms because, while I agree that life is inherently creative and every act is a creative one, I believe that creating art is an intentional act and, most of the time, most people don't appear to be intentional about what they are creating. But perhaps we'll save that conversation for another day....
I know there are artists in my acquaintance who would object to the idea that everyone is -- or that I am -- an artist, on the grounds that they have spent their entire lifetimes in the study of art with great discipline, perfecting their crafts. I agree. Those of us who love art must honor their dedication and commitment above any mere dalliance. In light of their achievements it seems to me, deeply presumptive to think of myself as an artist.
So, how do I answer the question? Usually a very pregnant pause, during which I remember this quote from Laurence G. Bolt in his brilliant book Zen and the Art of Making a Living....
"Were we all to aspire to be artists, all would benefit from more beautiful meals, clothing, parks, homes, schools, etc. We would benefit further from people, not alienated from - but happy in - their work. Those capable of the greatest art would not waste their talents in vain struggles to be king of the hill, but would release the gifts they hold deep in their souls."
... and then I reply; "I aspire to be an artist."
"Art is the task of life" - Nietzsche
Collette is a traveler, writer, art lover and creative marketing consultant. After twenty-five years in the designer fashion industry, working for Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, she took a sabbatical and wandered away into the wide world to find adventure, to explore, meditate and learn. For a year she traveled alone; a container ship ride across the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan, China and Hong Kong; ferries and trains, busses and planes across Southeast Asia and Australia; eight days sitting in silence at the feet of Mooji; Advaita Vedantist spiritual teacher; living and traveling for two months in Spain while studying Spanish -- which she hopes someday to master.
Returning to the US, Collette settled in Providence where, attracted by the beauty of the city, the miles of Rhode Island coastline and the crazy art vibe, she hopes to contribute to what she believes is a developing urban renaissance. In addition to 'finding her cool', she is currently gathering new stories from life and the art around her and working on a full length book about her journey.