“I’m an artist”

Art is Art | Art Affair from Mark Widdup

“I’m an artist”

My thoughts on the depreciation of the word art, its use, and application. I believe we are seeing the widespread devaluation of original art as a result. Is this appropriate?

Although art’s supposed proliferation brings one to ask… What is art and its boundaries anyway?!

I was speaking to a gallery visitor from Brisbane today which prompted me to write this blog post. I discovered she was an artist, previously a graphic designer for the Courier Mail, Brisbane, part of the Fairfax Group. I was given her insight into how art was applied and incorporated within the printed media these days and how art is perceived generally, as well as her opinions. She spoke of the changes to art and artist relationship and its role within print media.

Firstly, for some time now the paper has not employed artists, graphic artists as such, and has made them redundant. Traditional art design, the creative process involving skills, years of development, and acumen has been replaced by electronic digital crafts persons. The loss of the creativity of an original design seems to be the future. And in many instances as a result of globalisation newspaper art design is outsourced to our Asian neighbours at a cheaper cost. The point here is the creative process of art development versus technician proficiency!

We spoke further about the loss and devaluation of the art development process itself. This then led to a discussion about public confusion as to what original art actually is. We both recognised and agreed that we are seeing the devaluation of the word art, and also gallery!

The definition of art and its application has broadened and is now days applied to almost anything including: a card on the wall, a kids painting, my photo being mounted onto canvas… items perhaps produced by a 24hr art expert or a first year art student. It is further degraded by an uneducated person claiming to have experience with the arts who might use the tag:

“I’m an artist”

The title or label of an artist is one I believe that needs to be earned through the investment of time, learning, development of skills, working with masters, refinement, a process which takes years and allows one to develop one’s own art signature.

It cannot be a label applied simply by one without proper process!

What happened to the process of learning via a private or academic training in order to develop the basics of art education before lunging into art and publicly announcing ones artist status?

Painting as an amateur is fine in all manner of speaking but the line to cross is to promote oneself as an artist publicly when the title has not been earned! This is my point of question!

As far as the word gallery is concerned, its name has been relegated to any shop featuring knick knacks, a picture library online, and a name that one may want to use that has some social value or possibly implied prestige!

Has the proprietor or business earned the right to use this label?

This is the question! I realise this can be subjective I know, but clearly standard or appropriate emphasis needs to be adhered to and as such not to debase or denigrate the gallery name or that of the word and definition of “art” for that matter!

What is art to you?


  1. Great question Mark,
    This one tugs at most of the ‘loose threads’ of the artistic mind.

    I agree, a distinction must be made between being a person who is capable of creating cultural artifacts and one whom the community ‘recognises’ as being “an artist”.

    Socialogically, one could argue that the artistic community should be at least aware and recognise the artifacts that one produces in order to be entitled as a practising artist.
    Whether this comes through formal qualifications, immersion in the relevant sub-culture, exhibitions to the public or publication through appropriate cultural media.

    Does this mean that a person working artistically, in complete isolation (as difficult as that would practically be), is not “an artist”?
    I would say not, one can always call oneself an artist.
    However, when one wants others to refer them as an artist, that may when the social/cultural recognition has to be proven..

  2. Geoffrey Rubython · · Reply

    Mark, good evening,
    Jacques Derrida’s philosophy via our education system has for forty years influenced the way Australians interpret values and meaning.
    Your interesting article debates issues of values and perception pertinent to the term artist and gallery: Derrida would deconstruct these terms and in the process debase the conventional interpretation as your article proposed has occurred: Derrida would strip away for example the elitist view and standard.
    However Derrida would have a problem with “Gallery” which is a word blessed with many uses and meanings and so is not the domain of one application. For this reason the use of the word gallery in a particular use earns its particular meaning and gravitas in the particular, for example “The National Gallery” or the “The Wagga Wagga Shooting Gallery”: it is the values and interest that an individual attaches to the usage which determines. We know and value them because of the reputation attached to the particular – and that is the best one can expect: “The Cooks Hill Gallery” may one day be known as simply the “Gallery” because of reputation well earned –the market decides.
    So it is with the attribute “artist”: the market decides who is an artist and what art is: if you can sell and survive on your earnings as an artist you can claim to be a “professional artist”.
    Today I visited the National Gallery of Victoria and the “Radiance” ”The Neo-Impressionists” exhibition.
    Who decides is an artist and what is art is usefully illustrated by two quotes from the exhibition catalogue:
    “…A backlash against certain aspects of impressionism, as well as an extension of others, Neo-Impressionism grew from the creative spark ignited by two young artists, the classically trained Georges Seurat and the self –taught Paul Signac…”. (who is more the artist than the other here?)
    “…The history of Neo-Impressionism begins in May 1884 with the meeting of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in an annex in the courtyard of the Tuileries in Paris. This temporary building housed the first exhibition of a group of independent artists (Independants) who opposed the official Salon and rejected the principal of an admission panel…”
    It is noted that one artist was self-taught and that the exhibition was not held in a gallery – the paintings were not deemed art by the standard and sensibility of the Salon (also a fancy word for gallery).
    The freedom for people to individually and as a group to think and decide has after much damage, consigned Derrida back to academia: you could say it was the society or for that matter the matter the market who “Derridaded” Derrida: his philosophic position lost market share to the point of irrelevance.
    So it is with art and the associated definitions: as with Seurat and Signac, it was not the established order (shades of Derrida here – he is not totally irrelevant) but those who claimed to be artists (Seurat & Signac) and those who examined their work and paid for the pleasure and simulation from owning and viewing the works who decided what was art and who were artists. No government or Salon in the end decided – it was the hidden hand of the market: no one individual, no dictator – and that the way it should be: suggest the truth is an evolving reality (a bit of Derrida here too) and not the domain of any one or group.
    Al the best.
    Geoffrey Rubython

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