By Creative Contributor: Seth Apter
The following images are from Seth's personal collection and clickable for enlarged viewing.
What makes a maker of art an artist? This is a question that so many of us ask ourselves at one time or another. And it is likely that there are as many answers as there are artists. I remember a time when I asked a friend if she considered herself to be an artist. While there was no question in my mind that she was, replied to the query with a sheepish no. I could tell I touched a nerve. This got me thinking about why it might be that so many people who make art do not self identify as artists. What is it about this label that seems to strike fear in the hearts of so many?
Wikipedia defines artist as “a person who engages in an activity deemed to be an art” and “a person who expresses themselves through a medium.” This is quite a broad definition and it seems as if anybody who has even doodled during class in high school is an artist. Wikipedia goes on to add “the word also is used in a qualitative sense of, a person creative in, innovative in, or adept at, an artistic practice.” This is definitely more specific, but who determines a person’s level of creativity, innovation or adeptness?
People who have children easily identify themselves as parents -- regardless of how effective they are in that role. And those in school comfortably call themselves students -- even if they have a failing grade. But simply making art does not seem to be the only ingredient that enables all people to call themselves artists.
Maybe it is formal education and/or training that separates the artist from the non-artist? Well if that were the case, how do we explain Outsider Artists? A much debated term itself, the Outsider Artist is often thought of as an individual with no formal training, who may or may not be mentally ill, and who usually began creating their artwork with no interest in recognition or commerce. James Castle and Bill Traylor come to mind.
Perhaps it has to do with recognition in the form of sales? If that were true, what about Vincent Van Gogh? The story goes that Van Gogh sold just one painting while he was alive. Does that mean he only became an artist following his death?
How about exposure in the form of exhibitions? Well that would not explain Martin Ramirez or Henry Darger. While hardly household names, Ramirez’ artwork was exhibited throughout the United States for the first time more than 40 years after his death. And Darger’s artwork is being shown for the first time in his current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in NYC.
Perhaps it should be the creator of the art themselves who decides if and when they are an artist. Rather than looking toward external acknowledgement in the form of degrees, exhibitions, or sales, each of us who “creates” art can make the choice to embrace or avoid the label of artist, grapple with our identity as an artist, or just plain say it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist from New York City, focused primarily on paper arts, book arts, and textural assemblage. Using layers of paper, paint, ink, text, transfers, found metal, and other altered objects, he creates highly textured and distressed artworks.
His work has been highlighted on multiple websites and published in books, national magazines, and independent zines. His blog, The Altered Page, is a visual journal of his own artwork, photography, and collaborations, as well as a showcase for artists he admires and his creative experiences in NYC.
Blog: The Altered Page
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