Friday, May 8, 2015

Artist? Craftsman? Designer?


By now I have read enough blogs, listened to enough podcasts, and watched Lost in Living so I know I am not the only one asking “Am I an artist?” and “Am I still an artist when I am not making?” For me there is another foundational question I have to ask before that: Am I an artist, designer, or  craftsman? It's a loaded question because these are different paths. By far the option with that takes the most courage to look in the eye is artist. Growing up I was “the creative one,” shirking my responsibilities to draw and manning many a craft booth to make cash. I won a few little prizes, but nothing exceptional. My parents paid for years of watercolor lessons and I am still a terrible painter. Since my mom spins yarn and sells it, that was the family business, and definitely a craft. 

My real talent and passion after the baby-seal-drawing phase was in clothing, so I had the gaul to apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I didn’t know how bad the odds were, I just knew that I had read every book on costume and fashion in my small town library, and they were written by FIT professors and/or referenced the FIT costume library, so I scraped together money I didn’t have to apply to a school in a scary city I had never visited. I got in. I thrived. I worked myself into the ground. I still don’t think I was exceptional, I just had a good sense for design honed by years of reading and making, and I worked exceptionally hard. There was a lot of talent that burned brighter than mine, but I struck a decent balance and I won bigger awards, had bigger opportunities and teachers who believed in me.  

Then I got married and moved to Texas. I was completely lost. I Drowned in a sea of the infinite possibility of time and absolute impossibility of place, being remote from all things creative. Remote, really, from all things. 
I am grateful for the time of experimentation I had in that painful solitude. I am thankful for the forge of motherhood and just generally growing up. I began to find my voice. But then there is motherhood and stuff. I haven’t put in the hours I need to. 

My studio is calling me now. I am serious enough about creating that the first room you see in my house is the one dedicated to making. Making a mess, mostly. Should I seek my voice again? Is that even right or responsible? How serious am I? Where is my place? I have asked the questions thousands of times for more than half of my life. Sometimes in my head I say I am an artist because what I have to say is not just practical, not just a thing, but a living idea. Sometimes I call myself a craftsman out loud because I am not making real art. But the-buck-stops-here reason I am not making real art is that I am afraid. I am a decent and dedicated craftsman but a designer with no market and no heart for mass production, and a poor artist. A dabbler, really. 

Being the worst at something scares me more than anything else and I have no credentials. 

In fact, I have trained and refined taste, so I know exactly how bad I am. I don’t even know if I have a dream. But there are things I must do. Things I must make. Things I must say. Things that have nothing to do with alphabets. Can I be an artist if what I am doing is knitting and sewing? I don’t know. I tried self-identifying as an artist at a party the other night and I wanted the heat in my cheeks to sublimate my whole self and all claims on artistry into the heavy air. I didn’t, not because it is impossible, but because I caught my breath and the crush of imagining denying this part of me held me in place and time. 

That is why I am still here to ask the question. 

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