Artist is a Verb

Posted November 27 2012

Originally Posted on: Aug 22, 2011 by Kelly Powers

The other day a friend of mine lamented, "I wish I were an artist." The words struck me as incredibly familiar, probably because I have heard myself whispering that same sentiment in the middle of galleries, art shows and my own studio. As part of Creative Catalyst, I see some of the nation's top artists at work every year. They have put in the work required to perfect their craft, they have found their voices, and they make it look all too easy.

Sometimes it is easier to see discrepancies in others than it is ourselves, and what I wanted to tell this friend is that artist isn't a state of being. It is a state of doing. You are an artist the moment you pick up a pencil and decide to draw something. The quality of the drawing isn't what makes you an artist. The fact that you are drawing at all makes you an artist. And sure, those who draw more will become become better artists. But I'm often surprised at how many of us lament not being an artist when we really haven't tried very hard to be one. Or tried for very long. Or tried at all.

I am one of these "lamenters". I wanted to tell my friend what I think makes a person an artist, but really I should be telling myself these things. There is a nasty societal myth that you either have talent or you don't. To be fair, Van Gogh died at 37, so he clearly had some innate ability that he built on. Prodigies exist, but most of us aren't prodigies, and most of us could still be pretty good artists if we chose to put in the time. Ask Donna Zagotta if she woke up one day and turned on the "I'm an artist" switch. No, she made a decision and then she worked hard to reach her goals.

There is a huge difference between someone who actually practices art and someone who wishes she were good at art. Artist is a verb. Being an artist requires constant action. Even with my poor drawing ability, beginning design skills and lackluster understanding of color, I am still an artist because I make art. How good of an artist? That is firmly in my control, and I'll get to make that decision again and again, each and every day.