“I’m an artist.”
It took me a really long time to own that sentence. I'm nearly 30, I have a BA degree and an MA degree both in Fine Art and yet I still cringed when people asked what I did; 'I work as a temp in an office, oh and I make drawings'. I thought that if I said 'I'm an artist' then they'd have an assumption about me, maybe that I was a bit pretentious or snobby or that I was pretending to be better than I am. This frame of mind may have something to do with my working class background. On my maternal side my nanny is a school caretaker, my grandad is a retired scaffolder turned chicken farmer. On my paternal side, my grandfather was a dairy farmer and my grandmother who died a decade before I was born was a homemaker as far as I know. My aunties and uncles are lorry drivers, cleaners, warehouse workers and grass cutters for the council. My mum works as a packer and my dad as a mechanic and workshop manager. All are jobs that are vital and keep the world ticking over but don’t involve an element of creativity. Put bluntly, as far as I know no-one in my family is or was artistic. I have no idea where my appreciation of art comes from; I had no one teaching me how to draw when I was younger, no one took me to an art exhibition or encouraged me to follow an artistic path. In my family and in many others; art is not a necessity, it’s a past time, a hobby and being an artist is not useful.
When I was little I went through the usual phases of wanting to be a variety of different things when I grew up. I wanted to be a teacher so I could write on the white board whenever I wanted, I liked the idea of being a vet because I loved animals so much, my dad was in the army and I was outdoorsy so I wanted to be a soldier at one time too. When I reached the end of school I decided to take A-Levels including ceramics and photography, not for any career prospects but because I hadn't studied them before and they sounded fun. Whilst studying my A-Levels I went to New York City as part of an art college trip and fell head over heels in love with everything I saw that was art related. The galleries in Chelsea, the artefacts and abstract expressionist paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and especially seeing Monet's Water Lily triptych in the MoMA. Hypnotised by the colours and scale of the painting I was entranced and suddenly knew that I wanted art to always be part of my life. After my A-Levels I did a year-long foundation degree at another local college where painting became my favoured medium of expression. Having relished the idea that with fine art you have free-reign to 'do whatever' I decided to do a BA in Fine Art. I wasn't the brightest in the group, nor the most talented. I didn't really know how to get the best grades either, I just experimented. I splattered paint and used charcoal, I focussed my efforts on the human form and then landscapes. I left university with a passion for drawing.
After a period of time working in non art related roles and travelling I returned to university to study an MA in Fine Art. I saved hard so that I could work on my art uninterrupted for a whole year with no uninspiring temp job getting in the way of my practice. My MA degree was an awakening, led by a tutor who believed that life will always trump art, I felt out of my depth intellectually but enjoyed being surrounded by difference. The course was made up of mostly Chinese students, with two Indian girls and a boy from Thailand who came to be my best friend on the course. I'd been to China and Thailand and I felt a sense of companionship with the international students. Artists visited and spoke to us; I realised that artists are just regular people who perhaps see the world in a different way and aren't afraid to put their way of seeing and thinking out into the world. My assumption that artists had to be a certain way was smashed. I'd thought that you had to be working on your art 24/7 to be a real artist or that you had to exhibit several times a year, or that by being an artist you were a serious sort of person. As time has gone on I've realised that all artists feel self doubt or anxiety at some stage or another about their work, all artists are human. I left the MA with more exhibiting experience and a little more confidence in myself. That was in 2014 and still despite the new qualification I was still a nervous artist, shrugging off my practice when anyone asked about it like it was no big deal. I didn't want to be made fun of, even though in reality my art was everything to me. I saved up and travelled again, for longer this time and had even more time to think about what art meant to me and what I wanted to do. I had to write my occupation on custom forms and I started writing 'artist'. It was the first time that I properly embraced it. I make drawings, I show people those drawings by posting them on social media and by exhibiting when I can even if it's not often. I think about my work all the time, every day. When I look up at a cloudy sky I see the work of Turner in my mind, when I write in my neat and precise way I think of Tracey Emin and how her handwriting in its scratchy and messy manner is so at odds with mine.
I don't think that my BA or MA degrees in Fine Art are what gives me the right to call myself an artist, they are just qualifications I'm lucky to have because I was privileged enough to choose what I wanted to do at university. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to have studied Fine Art for four years but you don’t need a qualification to be an artist. I call myself an artist because it is what’s in my heart, I identify with it. I see the world in an interesting way sometimes and I have a fierce passion for it. Art is everywhere. A paint splash on a wall can sing to me much more than an exhibition of Damien Hirst sculptures. I can't name you all the artists of the renaissance but I have studied the surface of a Cy Twombly painting until my eyes went fuzzy. My work doesn't sell out as soon as it hits my online shop but the process of creating the work gives me enough satisfaction and happiness without the association of money. So, what I'm trying to say in another 'classic Claire' rambling piece of writing is this; calling yourself an artist is your prerogative. It is not up to someone else to define you. If you like to draw then perhaps you are an artist. If you write poetry, dribble paint on canvas, create music or study the details of the human form in weekly life drawing classes then perhaps you are an artist.
If art in any form speaks to you and you yourself create then perhaps you are an artist. If you think you are then own the phrase, tell people proudly when they ask and don't let other peoples preconceptions about what an artist is or does limit you and your thinking. Only recently have I learned to embrace the title ‘artist’ and feel brave enough to say ‘I’m an artist’ when asked what I do, it’s an uplifting feeling to acknowledge it, I only hope my bravery stays around and that my confidence only ever grows.
So, what do you think? I was nervous writing this one, because I feel completely unqualified to tell people what it means to be an artist, it is different to a lot of people. But, this piece of writing is here to explain my story and how I came to embrace the title and I want you to feel confident embracing it too if it speaks to you. Let me know in the comments below if you call yourself an artist and if you've always felt comfortable doing so, perhaps you're someone who thinks like an artist but isn't brave enough to own the title yet, thats ok, I'd like to hear from you.
If you enjoyed reading then please click the heart at the bottom, share or better still leave me a comment, I love reading them. ❤️