This last year I started my photography business. I have struggled with many things as a new entrepreneur, but one area I would not have predicted to be a struggle, but which has been, is getting used to the idea of people using the word artist to refer to me.
When I was growing up, in my mind an artist was someone who had a natural gift for drawing and painting so strong and so clear that they couldn’t be anything else, like those child prodigies we are all familiar with who at a young age can draw or paint the perfect likeness of someone from memory. I was sure their gifts could be improved with practice, but the gift was already strong. That was not me.
I have always loved art. I did oil paintings In elementary school and entered art contests. I was inspired by beautiful landscapes and would paint them from pictures. But I grew up in an extremely practical family, and art as well as music were seen as careers for those who wanted to struggle all their lives, living a bohemian lifestyle and wondering where their next meal would come from. My parents were depression era babies who didn’t want to struggle as adults, and did not want their children to struggle either.
Art was valued in my household, and I remember many trips to museums from the time I was little, and we had some large high quality reproductions in our home. I fell in love with impressionists early on, and I had friends in high school who were studying art who I hung out with and visited museums with. I look back now and realize this isn’t typical teen behavior but it worked for me. I was academically strong and an athlete, but I was also the kid who loved watching musicals and going to the symphony or the ballet and taking ceramics classes.
As an adult, I continued to dabble in the arts. I drew, I painted, I made quilts, and I photographed, mostly landscapes. I continued to go to museums and enjoy art. Moving to the Washington D.C. area was a real treat because of the Smithsonian museums. I have even taken my writing students to the National Gallery of Art to explore and then write about different art pieces and movements after having given them some art history and art appreciation lessons. Watching them react to and appreciate great art, some for the first time, was a treat.
So here I am now with a photography business, and clients have begun referring to me as an artist, and honestly my first reaction has been discomfort. I am not a Monet or Rembrandt. Do I deserve to be called an artist? So for the past year I have been thinking about what it means to be an artist.
The first definition for artist on Dictionary.com is a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.. Do I do that? Certainly. Both my landscape photography and pet photography fit this definition. And recently I have gone back to painting, this time digitally, and I am loving it.
As I work with composition in the camera, as I sculpt with light, as I enhance with editing, and as I digitally paint, I am growing more and more comfortable with thinking of myself as an artist who brings my vision of the world to the work I create.