Ask the Art Prof: Am I Actually a Visual Artist?

RISD Section 19

“I’m having problems with my creativity, as if I don’t have anything to share, show, or express to the world, and I am starting to question myself if I am actually an artist.”

In times of uncertainty, it is normal to be asking yourself about your identity as an artist. Every artist goes through this at some point, so it is perfectly natural to be experiencing these thoughts, as distressing and frustrating as they might be. So much of being an artist is the constant doubt that occurs in the creative process. If you’re not questioning yourself, then you’re not challenging yourself.

I do think that to become an artist, one has to begin with a fierce decision to become an artist.  Next comes the life long commitment to that decision, and then actually following through with an immense amount of never ending hard work and time.   The key to this is the following through part; anyone could wake up one day and decide to be an artist, but not everyone is willing to plunge themselves so deeply in such a consuming lifestyle.  That’s what separates people who are simply temporarily entertaining the idea of being an artist and the people who truly are artists at heart.

dusan makavejev

Serbian Film director Dusan Makavejev

One of my peers in art school was a film major and went to a lecture given by film director Dusan Makavejev.  At the end of the lecture, someone in the audience asked “What advice would you give to a film student going into the industry?”  His answer was “Don’t do it.” That’s a pretty cynical point of view, but it’s reflective of just how difficult it is to be an artist, and the enormity of the challenges that artists face.

As far as feeling like you don’t have anything to express, you’d be surprised at what’s sitting there right in front of you. Many people think that they have to search far and wide for something to express, when so much of the time, what could be expressed was at home to begin with.

LLb7

I have an assignment that I give in my freshman drawing class at RISD where I ask students to make a drawing based on a routine that they have.  It sounds like a very simple directive, but every time this assignment produces some of the best work of the semester. The group critique turns into a confessional for many students, sharing very personal experiences that they’ve had.  The subjects range from hilarious to tragic to just plain weird, and I’ve had more than a few students break down crying at the critique because they cared so deeply about their subject.

When you’re feeling like you don’t know what to make, make work about something that you know intimately.  Your closeness to the topic will show through the work and demonstrate your personal conviction.


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Ask the Art Prof Live is a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provide professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  Ask me your questions by commenting on the live video post as the video streams, and I’ll answer right away. I’ll discuss being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more. Like my Facebook page and you’ll receive a notification when each live video begins.


Video Critique Program
I offer 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for aspiring/professional artists working on a body of artwork, and for students working on an art portfolio for college admission. Watch sample video critiques and get more info here.


Related articles
“How can one regain lost satisfaction with their work?”
“How do you gain confidence in your artwork?”
“Do professional artists doubt their abilities?”

2 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: Am I Actually a Visual Artist?

  1. I also underwent a period when seeing myself as an artist was doubtful because my works were so terrible and couldn’t be distinguished from what could be produced by people who didn’t think of themselves as one. But when my ability and quality of my works recovered, I knew I was an artist.

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