When I sat down to write this blog post, I googled the term artist identity and I was bombarded with articles about how to create an identity closely followed by instructions on how to write the perfect bio to portray that identity. It felt fake, made up, contrived.
Obviously once established as an artist there is a need to write and communicate about who we are in a compelling and engaging way but surely our identity is what we actually are not what we construct in a bio. I don’t think an artist’s identity is built around a persona they have created for themselves.
When Izzy and I recorded episode 30 of our podcast which was titled “Artist Identity", I think what we were really asking was not ‘what is our identity?’ but rather ‘do we identify as artists?’ I know it took me a long time before I was comfortable calling myself an artist and would describe what I did in all sorts of ways that avoided saying the words “I am an Artist”. I was a tutor, a teacher, an embroiderer, a machine embroiderer, I worked with textiles, I made textile art, but I was never an artist. I’m not sure at what point that changed, but gradually I started to become brave and call myself an artist, quietly and tentatively at first but as with anything, the more I did it the easier it became.
Current paintings in progress
But it did make us question what holds us back? Personally, I think it is all about self-belief, confidence and mindset and we are often held back by fear.
We fear that others may judge us and think that we don’t make good art. But why does their opinion matter and what do they know anyway? There will always be people who don’t like the art we make, just as there will be those who absolutely love it but learning to separate ourselves from that judgement of others brings freedom. Freedom to make the art we want, the art we love and that lights us up.
Maybe we fear we will fail or we are not good enough, but again who is making that judgement? If this is what you believe then learn more, practise more, become good at what you do, just as you would with any skill. And bear in mind that not every piece of art you produce will be a masterpiece, in fact most of what you make probably won’t even come close, but that doesn’t make you a failure. It means you are learning.
Another issue that raised its head for both me and Izzy was the whole idea of being a ‘Textile Artist.” I have always avoided this definition of what I do because I think if you are an artist then you should not define yourself by your media. The hierarchy of media in art and whether textiles are taken seriously is a whole other subject, and I always felt that because of this, the tag of ‘textile’ somehow seemed to be making excuses for art that was somehow lacking. However, 'an artist who sometimes works in textiles' somehow sounds so much better, so much more like someone who is taking themselves seriously and there are plenty of examples of artists who have done that without ever having to use the word textile to define themselves. Think about the blankets of Tracey Emin, the tapestries of Henry Moore and Grayson Perry and the huge body of work in textiles by Louise Bourgeois.
Is it finished? Another blog post topic maybe?
A big one for me has always been imposter syndrome. I never had a formal art training beyond school so there was always a niggling voice that told me I couldn’t possibly be a real artist if I hadn’t had a formal art education – probably driven by the fact that I had really wanted to go to art school but was never brave enough to stand up to the teachers (and parents) who didn’t think I should. I was trained as a teacher so saying I was a tutor or teacher was easy, but artist? No, not so much. However, I recently heard a lovely expression that I would like to whisper to myself occasionally to remind myself that this shouldn’t be a problem because “I am unencumbered by a formal art education”.
But as I have got older and possibly wiser (the jury is out on that one) I have learned not to care what other people think and I am learning to have self-belief and to take my art seriously without taking myself too seriously. If I walk the walk and talk the talk then yes, I am Gina, I make art and I am an artist!
What about you? Do you call yourself an artist and if not why not? I would love to hear from you.