What is art and can you call yourself an artist?

Many people ask: What is art? When I was studying art we spoke about high art and low art. I think it was a highbrow or snobbish way of thinking and people believed that only high art mattered. Low art included crafters and hobbyists. Even nowadays there are people who talk about insider art and outsider art but more and more, with the postmodern thinking, there emerges a better acceptance of every type of art having a place, just as each individual has a place in society. If you have lived half your life already you might have been influenced more by exclusive thinking and terminology in all spheres of life: race, gender, class, religion, knowledge etc. Maybe you have thought to measure an artist’s success with the amounts of money earned or how popular or famous they are. Artists should not be measured against each other.  We are all unique but the debate continues. There will be many different opinions on this matter.

There are many different types of artists.

When I joined Ilhaam Behardien’s Artist’s identity studio here in Cape Town in 2017 I learnt about an idea based on Harold Pearse’s thinking which has helped me greatly and spurred me on to do my own thinking. He said that there are (loosely speaking) three different types of artists: (1) the communicator who expresses themselves and their inner person through their art; (2) the producer who enjoys the process of producing art and the repetitive nature of reproducing; (3) the socially conscious artist that expresses the social issues at hand and is motivated by the world around them. They often have a need to express (or protests) about what they observe. 

I now feel that it is a narrow description and feel that there are many more types of artists and overlapping of functions so it is a shame to box people. For instance there are artists of many different descriptions who have a drive to “make art” like we also have to sleep, breathe or eat to survive. They might be communicators or producers or the socially conscious artist but their initial motivation is that they cannot live without it. They cannot function without it, whether it is making music, dancing, writing or visual art. There are artists who find their truths and secret desires by diving deep within who don’t have the desire to express it with others because it is a private process. It feels very therapeutic or cathartic and isn’t meant for others. On the other end of the spectrum there are artists who need to be seen because they have a message to convey or they are created to be seen. There is commercial art, design, product making verses the pure being-ness of creativity. As world culture changes its views on art and the artist, there is more and more scope for you and me with the artistic temperament. And we can have multiple functions and motivations. It certainly is a very interesting topic to consider.

We can all call ourselves artists if we identify as one.

We can all call ourselves artists, even if you feel inferior. Sometimes we don’t even think of identifying as an artist or creative. In the distant past in caveman times there was rock art which might have been done for ritual, then came the religious art and then over time art diversified and diversified so you should not feel ashamed or an imposter calling yourself by your artist’s trade: writer, singer, artists, sculptor, crafter etc etc.

What often has not been emphasized enough, in the past, to those who are interested in art is that we can all be artists and creators in our own world. It is not about making money. It is not about being clever or highly polished at images. It is about you doing you; you doing your art for you, or for others, or for whatever calls you. Just do it without inhibition and without question. To use a phrase: follow your bliss, let it lead you. The artistic spirit is very vulnerable and suffers greatly from low self-esteem. It does not need further beating down from you. Be inquisitive and full of wonder. Ask: where is it leading me? Don’t force it to bend to you preconceived ideas, just follow.

How that seed of creativity grows and what it grows into is as diverse as each of our personalities. One thing I know is you need to feed and water it just like a plant otherwise it will lie dormant for a long time waiting for your tender care.

“If you want to grow, only compare yourself to yourself”

– Yanina Gomez.

What is the driving force behind your creativity?

I am the communicator. I look for ways to express, either just for myself or for others. As I have mentioned before I want to express what I observe in life, what I love, and mostly what I think about and feel.  So it’s about my life and yours; growth, change; and expressing light and love.  Through my art I want to connect with others to inspire, encourage, motivate, and stir up deep reflective thought. Most importantly I want to collaborate or co-create with others and the Creator. 

Tell me what your views are on being an artists or what you think art is. I would love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful weekend,

25 thoughts on “What is art and can you call yourself an artist?

  1. Amazing topic for me to think about as I sit here at Starbucks on this Saturday afternoon!!! You raise so many great points, and definitely there was a sense of “high art” and “low art” conveyed when I studied it in college. Even today, still exists! But I really think art is whatever you make it to be. It’s very subjective to each individual. You wrote, “What often has not been emphasized enough, in the past, to those who are interested in art is that we can all be artists and creators in our own world.” YESSSS!!!!! Even for me, I never consider myself an “artist” even though I’ve been referred to as one a few times by people I know. I guess it is a feeling of “imposter” syndrome, which I need to let go of! We can all be artists in our own way. Thanks for your amazing, insightful post! 💗

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  2. Dear Morag, what a wonderful post! You’ve really got me thinking. I’m uncertain which ‘box’ I fit into as I believe like you that there are probably a great many other ‘boxes’ out there over and above the 3 you mention. By coincidence, last night we watched the BBC’s visit to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. If things had been ‘normal’ we might just have been there! This year it was curated by the British-African artist Yinka Shonibare and his interests are very broad so that some ‘craft’ items were also included. Each year we see this great exhibition and I am amazed at the diversity of ‘art’ but this year I have come to the conclusion that all creativity is art and that we are all artists if we can open that particular door within ourselves. I write, but I desperately want to express myself visually! So am I an artist or a writer? What I have learned is that we are all ‘creators’ if we can step outside the norms of what others want us to do! 💐🙋‍♂️

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    • Thank you Ashley, I am happy to get you thinking 😉 yes there are many more boxes and I believe we can be creative over many areas… I write, painting, dance, sing, play the piano and guitar… I think one should not box ourselves into criteria but express at will in whichever medium feels right 😀. It must be wonderful to see the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition! Opening the door is definitely part of going on a creative journey. I think we can knock on many different creative doors until we find the ones that suit us best. I think you are both a writer and visual artist. You have much desire, follow the flow and enjoy. I agree we are all creators! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences too. I always appreciate what you share. Take care. Morag. 🌈🌷🙋‍♀️

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  3. This is a thought provoking piece. I feel I’m a communicator. But I think everyone is an artist in one’s own right, irrespective of one calls or feels oneself as an artist or not. Arts may be taken as any activities that induce creativity or imagination.👌💐

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  4. Hello Morag, thanks for another interesting and thought-provoking article! I’ve always shied away from calling myself an artist, as I never formally studied art and lack the basics. However, I would never be able to live without creating, whether it is ‘art’, craftwork, needlework, writing or music — to me it’s all art, as is having an ‘artistic temperament’. I tend to be a communicator as I love to interact with others, to hear what they have to say and to express myself with them too.
    Have a lovely Sunday and week!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s so wonderful to hear from you! I would call you an artist for sure, it really sounds like it is part of your make up. “I would never be able to live without creating” says it all 👍 thank you for your wishes, time and sharing something of yourself too. You have a lovely week too 🤗🙋‍♀️🌈

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful post that made me think a bit 😉. When I was much younger, I thought an artist was someone who could paint (you know, beautiful pictures and images that I do not always understand – the abstract images). And I admired those people – still do, I think it must be amazing to be able to draw what you see (or think about)!
    But as I got older, I learned that you can be an artist in so many ways – not only by painting, but also by singing, playing an instrument, planning a new recipe, performing in a theater, holding public speeches, as well as writing … whether it’s a poem, a short story or even a book. And so I realised (to my surprise) that I too can be an artist, even though I cannot draw a picture to safe my life!

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  6. Such a lovely post, thank you Morag. I have many a times been asking my self this question ‘are you an artist’ and my answer would always be yes 🙂 Your post for sure have made me ponder about this, I came to the conclusion that I am indeed, thank you for that ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. something I needed to read today!

    “It is about you doing you; you doing your art for you, or for others, or for whatever calls you. Just do it without inhibition and without question”

    such wise words, but something I often struggle with…
    I think it’s in the world we live in where everyone is available online, and everyone shares their art, it can be very overwhelming at times, and then that little monster called “imposter” creeps in, and disrupts your whole day!

    In the end, create for yourself, but share your work, who knows what may be your influence on the world in the end of the day… even if the only beneficiary is yourself…

    Liked by 1 person

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