An artist by any other name

by Libby on February 29, 2008

Susan Lomuto of Polymer Clay Notes wrote recently about a topic that is, in my family’s parlance, one of my “hot buttons” – that is whether an artist who is not selling work is really an artist. I wrote a rather lengthy response, and yet I have more to say.

I have regularly heard working artists use the term “hobbyist” in a way that seems to encompass everyone who is using art/craft materials but not selling. The term is generally said in a very dismissive tone. I find it a bit ironic that working craft artists (fine art vs. craft is another battle) would in any way denigrate “hobbyists” because we probably represent a significant segment of their customer base. We appreciate the vision, skill and effort that goes into making fine crafts. We love to wear and be surrounded by things handcrafted.

I was talking about this whole label dilemma with my sister who is a painter. In her arena, the conflict of titles is between artist and painter. We both agree that to us, the term hobbyist should refer more to the person who likes to make projects from kits or specific instructions. Anyway, I could go round and round about the artist versus hobbyist question all day. (and in a way I have!)

The other thing that Susan wrote about was the concept of your work having your own voice. “Voice” is a bit of a popular artsy term these days. For me, having a voice means having a personal style. After flailing around various styles and learning various techniques for about six years, I think I have reached that point in the last year. (sorry my gallery is down so you can’t see the difference between my current work and much of my pre-2007 pieces) And I did have a real moment when everything seemed to come together, and “my heart sang” a little to paraphrase Elise Winters’ words.

It was particularly gratifying to look at my work in the context of the Synergy Gallery, and feel that it was a cohesive collection that felt like me. There was a lot of amazing and unique work in the Gallery, and there was a fair amount of work that was highly reflective of various master artists/teachers.

Some artists such as Robert Dancik, who spoke eloquently at the conference about finding your “voice”, have strong voices. Robert’s jewelry is not only distinctively his own, each piece clearly has some fascinating story or meaning. But, in my opinion, it’s not always big things which determine an artist’s style or voice. Some times it can be the sum of many small details. I think Kathleen Dustin touched on that in her earring seminar when she said that jewelry findings should either be invisible or completely in the context of the piece. Using your own appropriate ear wires is another element which can give your work a distinctive style.

“Voice” can seem like such a ponderous and self important term. It has brought up some interesting blog reactions. For me, I think it’s about whether you can step back from your work and own it.

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