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The two men sat together, friends now for just a year and a half. One was a retired scholar, the other a retired soldier. Both were knee-deep into stone sculpting. They had met to continue their ongoing discussion of “What Makes an Artist.”

They enjoyed their brew as they mulled over the question at a local coffee house, both reaching for the coveted title of “Artist.”

Remember wondering what makes an “Artist”?  You survived childhood, school, and maybe your first career, and still wondered. What makes an artist? Focus now on definitions from two directions, self and society.

The self definitions are subdivided into at least three relationships: our position/career, our significant other, and our contacts/peers. The social definitions are subdivided into our individual paths, other artists, and our relationships with gallery owners. What pathway have you chosen or will you choose, as you become an artist?

One artist, when asked how long it took to create a work, responded, “It took a lifetime.” The lifetime of learning, encounters, and experience is how we grow and develop, allowing us to express ourselves through our art. The decision of how to go forward is dependent upon our self-definition and our social relationships.

The early years of an artist are spent in experimentation. Drawing, painting, and possibly sculpting clay through elementary, junior high, and high school, opens our eyes, mind, and heart to the world of art. These are the early years of development. Depending on the individual, this stage can be prolonged or may not occur until later in life. This is the part of the process we have some control over as we grow, it is our self-definition and development. The process of self-definition should be never ending. Success depends on the ability to transition from one stage to the next. One of the easiest ways to visualize a transition stage is to remember leaving school and going to work. We no longer have the summer off to enjoy our freedom; we have to work forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year. We are now defined by our position or career.

Somewhere within this process we enhance our self-definition by choosing a partner, or not. If we chose a partner, that individual may bring to the self-definition significant impacts: anything from financial benefits, social status, or encouragement, to disappointment. All our relationships and experiences give us depth.

We encounter friends and peers that contribute to the process. These relationships can be very supportive or destructive. Our need to conform to society’s preferences may lead to our own creative demise if we are not strong enough in our own convictions. If these contacts encourage growth through discussion, support, and assistance, then success is more likely.

Now on the brink of success, we seek social-definition. Depending on your pain threshold, this can be a challenging transition. What is a tyro? A tyro is a beginner or novice artist. Like a new chick hatching from the egg, where life was warm and everything was safe, now we experience the use of new muscles as we peck at the shell and discover how cramped our confinement had been. With our education in hand, and our experiences, which may include a career outside of art, we strike out on the pathway to art.

Insert other artists, our competitors, and friends. Here we encounter the dreaded “you are not as good as so-n-so,” you know, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Albrecht Durer. Falling into this trap, we can become immobilized. This is the hardest thing we, as artists, will ever encounter: successfully integrating ourselves with our teachers and exemplars.

If things have not been tough enough, we now must continue with our social-definition and seek acceptance from the gallery owner. This phase of our growth can easily bring death to the budding artist. Remember, it took a lifetime to create your work, do not, DO NOT, allow someone not of your experience to stop you dead in your tracks. Gallery owners are in the business of making money. They have a niche to fill; your niche and their niche may not match. You must be strong and avoid negative thought patterns. Remain positive and persistent in pursuing your objective: “being an artist.”

Special thanks to Karl Hufbauer for his mentoring and friendship.