What is an Artist? Can You Define an Idea?

Philosophers and theorists alike have long speculated as to what really defines something as a work of art. That, of course, leaves the issue of “what is an artist?” even more frustrating. As an occupation, it seems that the concept is more of a judgment of value. Tattooists, comedians, exotic dancers, graffiti workers and chefs often claim the title of “professional artist” at some point or another. However, does this limit the concept of what an artist is to those who are actively working in an industry that allows for creative expression?

Open Ended Definitions of Artist

Even the dictionary definition of the noun “artist” seems to leave a lot of room open for interpretation. The first part is pretty simple; someone that creates. It even states that the creating could be done professionally or as a hobby. The bullet point below attempts to be slightly more specific, mentioning that an artist is someone who practices any of the creative arts like sculpting, writing or even being a filmmaker. Its the last point that opens it all back up for opinion. “A Person skilled at a particular task or occupation” could very well encompass almost anything. By what scale are we to measure what makes someone particularly “skilled” at something that, at its core, is an expression of personal feelings? Even the listed synonyms seem to almost confuse the situation more rather than offer legitimate insight into the real core of the question.

Government Acknowledgment

The basic definition of the actual word ‘artist’ is rather loose and leaves a wide berth for interpretation. As for the federal government, they identify someone as a professional creative in two ways. The Census Bureau inquires about once a decade about the sources of income during a census week. If an artist has more than one source of income, like a day job, they will be considered employed in the job that racked up the most hours during the reference week for the census data. Unfortunately, the focus is on hours that are paid efforts. Meaning that hours spent in a studio working on artwork with the intent to sell and make income aren’t usually considered. This leads to many artists being totally overlooked as actually being an artist. Of course, because Census data is confidential, you wont have to worry about a gallery throwing your work out on the street just because the government doesn’t actually consider you an artist. However, this does have a very negative effect when it comes to legislations delegating appropriate funds and law making efforts towards the benefit of artists as a whole. The number of federally recognized artists is severely undercounted.

Personal Opinions

I suppose the closest thing to an accurate way of determining who is and isn’t an artist is by simply asking them. I, personally, try to consider myself an artist. However, lately these existential questions have been popping up and it’s been making me question whether or not I’m truly worthy of a term that I hold in such high esteem. I suppose that’s where this series of posts is coming from and why I can’t exactly predict how long or how many parts of this little series there will be. I hope that during the course of this personal journey that by sharing it with the public I may be able to gain more insight into what makes an artist an artist and perhaps even help a few other people figure some things out for themselves along the way.

Share your Thoughts and Insights!