Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Artist or Artisan…
How Do You See Yourself?

ar·ti·san | ˈärtizən

      a worker in a skilled trade,
     especially one that involves making things by hand.

      synonyms: craftsman, craftswoman, craftsperson
Many years ago when I first started painting I had a view of myself as a naturally gifted artist. It was all pretending, but I wanted to be like Rembrandt or George Inness. I saw them as geniuses and believed all their talent was natural.

George Inness in his studio [1890]
George Inness in his studio [1890]

Over the next couple of years as I began to paint more and more this view of myself as a naturally gifted artist began to sink in. People around me told me my work was great and soon I started to believe it.

I did not realize it at the time, but the quality of my work was no longer improving. In fact it was getting worse. I was painting one portrait after another unaware of what was happening.

Then by chance I walked into the Birmingham Museum of Art and saw this painting:

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d'Abernon
click to enlarge

I had been so busy painting portraits, thinking I had it all figured out, that I never really stopped to look at anything else. But standing in front of this masterpiece by Sargent, in an instant it changed my perspective on my own work. I realized I had been fooling myself, my work was nothing like this! It was then that my work really began to improve.

What that Sargent painting did was made me rethink how to paint. I wanted to paint like Sargent, but how did he do it? I no longer believed I could rely on my "natural ability" — that clearly was not working. I decided to relearn how to paint, learn how to solve the problems, learn how to paint well, truly understand my craft. I started seeing myself as an artisan, or a craftsman instead of as a "natural born artist". And for me personally it has made a huge difference.

UPDATE: Someone posted something in the comments that's too good to leave out… here's a great quote by Vincent van Gogh:
I am an artist… it’s self-evident that what that word implies is looking for something all the time without ever finding it in full. It is the opposite of saying, “I know all about it. I’ve already found it.” As far as I’m concerned, the word means, “I am hunting for it, I am deeply involved.”
— Mark Carder
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