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Sunday, December 4, 2016

"I AM A..." How Artists Describe Themselves

We all attach labels to ourselves. In the art world there are so many labels that we can lose our perspective in what suits us best. 

It is not enough to say "I'm an artist". Its too vague. 

I conducted a small experiment awhile back. I would introduce myself sometimes as an artist and other times as a sculptor. There was an immediate difference in how I was perceived. 

To those who I told I was an artist, there was a vague sense of "oh how sad, he has no real job". 

To those I told I was a sculptor, there was more of a sense of interest. Telling them I was a sculptor evoked interest and a need to know more. What kind of sculptor was I? What kind of materials did I use? Was it hard work? 

One label evoked interest, the other evoked boredom and in some cases even veiled hostility if the person equated being an artist to being an out of work slob.

Labeling ourselves as artists must be approached carefully. It is sad that we even need to think about these things. But if we wish to market ourselves properly, then it is something that we must consider carefully.

For some artists its easy. "I paint seascapes" creates a bit more interest than "I'm an artist". Same thing really, but the way we say it is how we aim a person towards wanting to know more. It is this "aiming" that is crucial to whatever label we choose for ourselves. 

When I winnow away all the other labels, in the end I am an "experimental artist". But telling a person that I am an experimental artist usually achieves nothing but confusion. 

What we perceive ourselves to be, is not always what we should tell others we are. 

A label must create interest but not confusion. Never embarrass a potential customer just because your label sounds more complicated than they can grasp. Don't lie to them about what you do, but choose your language carefully.

For me, I mostly go with "Sculptor" now. It is a label that most can understand without over complication. It is complex enough to create emotions, yet simple enough to cause the person to grasp what you do. For me it opens the doorway to questions that continue the dialogue and may even lead to sales later. 

The simple fact is that we are not just one thing. We wear many hats as a creative professional. In some cases one hat may work better than another when we are interacting with others. If I am teaching artists then I am an art teacher. If I am writing an art blog article then I am an Art Blogger. If I am describing a new technique I am an Experimental Artist. In the end pick the label that best suits where you are at that moment.

PT Barnum had it right when he said "Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!" Our labels are our way of promoting ourselves to the rest of the world. If you've not put any thought into your own labels, take time. It will make a world of difference in how your art is perceived and sells. 


  1. Hello Grey, I don't take myself seriously so if someone asks I say I paint, then it begins question what do you paint, how do you and so on. I let them ask all the question then I can see what they think about artists. Then I kick in with what they know about art. If you don't know who your taking to you need to let them sell you on what they know and what they like.

  2. You make a great point Joseph. Our own self esteem regarding whether we take ourselves seriously or not is crucial. I know that I can't even take myself seriously when I call myself an "artist". But when I call myself a sculptor that self esteem is much stronger.

    With that in mind though, you sir are one of the most amazing texture artists I've ever seen. You are much more than "a painter" and when people see your work they know it instantly.