I’ve always had a problem telling anybody that I’m an “artist.” Probably because I have a rather high regard for art. So announcing that “I am an artist” strikes me as pretentious or arrogant. Being an “artist” is more honorific than declamatory. And so whenever I hear someone lay claim to the title for themselves I think, “Oh, really?” But if they say, “I’m a painter,” or “I’m a musician” I’m nearly always interested to learn more. There is something about these more descriptive terms that invites rather than proclaims.
Sure, in common parlance, an “artist” is simply “a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.” I get that. But painting is neither a profession or a hobby for me. It is however a practice. As a practice it is something I have chosen to do that I find intrinsic to my way of being, something that matters to my own sense of self & meaning. Being an artist however does not strike me as something one chooses as much as something that happens in becoming oneself…and it is linked in mysterious ways with the capacity to aid others to see & experience. An artist reminds you of what you “know” but may not yet be conscious of, or, of what you know and have forgotten. You might say that an artist’s work is a catalyst whose meaning is in the awareness it awakens.
The artwork itself is a precipitate of the artist’s seeing and it may precipitate seeing in another. But the work of art is neither the seeing nor the thing seen. As an objet d’art it conveys, properly speaking, something for which there is no name. This is what makes “titles” so dubious — they pretend to tell you, to name, what’s there when the artist knows full well they cannot do that. There is no way to reduce a moment of seeing to so many words or so much paint and canvas. So…it is the smart patron who knows this and realizes that a title or a label is no substitute for seeing what’s there for yourself.
What an artist sees (in mind or matter) is not recorded in the work as though freezing a moment in time. Even a photograph can’t do that because seeing is living, dynamic. Nor is what the artist sees and transforms into “art” a “thing” in the sense of his/her work being simply an “object” or even an “object” with a “subject.” When art “works” it has a presence that renews or awakens our sense of wonder about it. An artist sees something for the first time and wants to show you. Don’t think for a minute you’ve seen this before — especially if it looks familiar. That’s only how it looks. What the artist wants you to do is to look again…and to keep on looking until you see what you haven’t the words for either, like you’re seeing something for the first time.