An Artist Is A Process

I have suffered for some time under the illusion that “being an artist” was a goal. A thing. An identity. It’s not. An artist is a byproduct of the process of creating art.

There is no such thing as “being an artist”. You can be “someone who creates art”, but an artist is really a verb. It’s a pattern. To paraphrase Alan Watts, it’s like this whirlpool in a river — not made of this water or that water, but rather of the pattern of energy. The water only flows through that energy pattern which is the actual whirlpool. Thus, an artist too is this whirlpool, this pattern of energy, and art flows through it.

Looking back, I can see how detrimental this small distinction was for me. I had vague mental checklists of skills I wanted to attain. What little artwork I managed to create wasn’t much more than proof to an uninterested (and likely imaginary) audience that I could achieve certain technical proficiencies. Nobody cares about this. There are others out there who can draw ten, a hundred, a thousand times better than you can. Nobody cares. Nobody’s watching. Nobody is keeping score.

What people do care about is what you create. More often than not they will be forgiving of those technical proficiencies you are so fond of hiding behind, and cling to so tightly as an excuse when you remember how little artwork you actually produce. If anyone is watching, they want to see what you are up to. They want the footprints of the process, of the whirlpool. You cannot be “an artist” if you are not constantly creating art. At best you have “fine rendering skills”. But if you do not put those into practice, that is all they will ever be. Rendering skills do not make you an artist. Creating art does.

Your art is not some testament, some monolith fixed in time that states equivocally “This guy can draw!”. Rather, it’s an ongoing record of the process. The technical skills exist only to make the work easier. They are tools, and nothing more. It’s easy to get lost identifying with the tools of one’s trade, but know that the tools are not what your audience wants — but rather that which you’ve fashioned with those tools.

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3 comments

    1. That’s a very interesting question. I too am fascinated by artist tools, I think that was a huge part of wanting to learn to draw as a kid. It carries over from analog to the digital arena as well.

      I’d say a toolmaker is both a craftsman in the service of art, and an artist — but most likely only considered one in his/her own field of expertise.

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