I am teaching painting classes to beginners and constantly hear people express, ‘I am not an artist’, ‘I don’t know what I am doing’, and ‘this is terrible’. Each time I hear one of these comments, my heart breaks. After years of teaching drawing and illustration to children and watching their freedom, I am staggered by how hard adults are on themselves when it comes to being creative. Let’s first talk about the definition of these three words: create, art and artist. The Oxford Dictionary (OED) defines each of these words in this way:
1 [with object] bring (something) into existence: he created a thirty-acre lake
1 a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.
2 a person who practices or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer.
3 a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.
1 the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
So, to ‘create’, which means to bring into existence, can be practiced by anyone, any profession, any level. An artist may create but one does not need to be an artist to create. Now let’s explore the definition for artist, a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby and a person who practices any of the creative arts. In this modern culture we live in, where everyone is a specialist, the freedom to create is lost on the idea of what an artist is. I think my students are confusing creating with being a professional artist, therefore blocking the fun and freedom they may find through the process of painting, of learning how to paint and exploring their own ideas on the canvas.
Now lets look at the last word, art: ‘expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture and producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power’. Nowhere in this definition does it say ‘specializing in’, ‘to be sold, or showed’. Rather, it says, expression, application of creative skill or imagination, to be appreciated for beauty or emotional power. When my painting students get out of their own way, and when the critic in them is quieted and I see them smile, is this not appreciation? Can’t we all start there? This is my dream as an educator; to have all beginning painters come into class and pick up the brushes and go at their painting with gusto, allowing themselves the freedom to try new things without their inner critic. To have people who would like to try painting and other forms of art not get hung up on the over exaggerated perception of the words art and artist so they feel the freedom to try new things. And to have my beginning painters realize that when they smile at their work after a class, according to the OED, that they have just created art and therefore have just become artists.