Artist: It’s a funny old word

A photo of a tree reflected in three puddlesIt snuck into my last blog, but in case you didn’t catch it I’m going to be working  with Luke Pell as one of Dance Digital’s Associate Artists for 2013/14. Actually, there are quite a few words there for me to get my head around – ‘dance’ and ‘digital’, for instance, but for now lets concentrate on the one I found particularly perplexing – ‘artist’.

I’ve written about my discomfort with the word before but clearly need now to delve in again. So, as with many things, I google it:

Wiktionary defines the noun ‘artist’ (Singular: artist; Plural: artists) as follows:

1. A person who creates art.

2. A person who creates art as an occupation.

3. A person who is skilled at some activity.

Ok, there are things I am skilled at – curating, questioning, framing – and I will be employing these skills extensively within this project. So far so good.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the older broad meanings of the term “artist”:

  • A learned person or Master of Arts
  • One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry
  • A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice
  • A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic
  • One who makes their craft a fine art
  • One who cultivates one of the fine arts – traditionally the arts presided over by the muses

Yup, I’ll be studying. I need to learn a whole load of new stuff to create what I wish to create, so maybe I can sneak in on that one too.

The definition of Artist from is this:  creative person (a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination).

Now this I like, this appeals.

I do create, I do deliver creative work (although not in the sense of ‘paintings’ or ‘performances’). And the processes I use require vast amounts of both sensitivity and imagination. Yesss, I can say I’m an artist without laughing.

When I looked at what it meant before it was through a discussion with Michael Trainor, one of the artists working on Drinking and Thinking, a project based on 240 years of the Northern Quarter in Manchester.

He came up with this four-step programme: An artist must have ideas, must make work, must want to do something more than represent and must have intension.

I do tick all those boxes, so why my continuing discomfort?

Well, I think it comes down to the following:

  • I can’t draw
  • I can’t paint (and I have retried painting earlier this year to prove this once again to myself and those around me)
  • I can’t play a musical instrument
  • I can’t…

My list of can’t is very long in relation to the majority of classical elements my mother, for example, might expect ‘an artist’ to have mastered.

However much I accept the broader term, I struggle at a base level with feeling like a 5-year-old, laughed at and exposed at school for a basic lack of skill.

Clearly my issue and something to work on in 2013. Yup, it’s the basic ‘fear of failing’ one, rooted in childhood.  Anyone know any quick fixes for this one?!

Photo of a puddle by me, and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.


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