I didn't believe I was an artist even though I set up a hip hop dance company aged 15 and haven't really stood still since! I have always seen myself as creative but reserved 'artist' for a special type of person. I'm only now recognising that, in fact, I believe everyone is an artist. Here are nine reasons why:
1. Let's start by challenging stereotypes. It's time to challenge the archetypal artist. Imagine an artist that thinks like a designer, with the spirit of an activist and the flair of an entrepreneur. There's a new radical movement of artist emerging - it's fresh, it's raw and it's damn exciting. So don't worry if you don't fit the mould - make a new one.
2. Art is life. I am reading an amazing book called Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991 - 2011 (Creative Time, 2012), which argues that art is so inextricable from life that maybe it is time to flip the age-old question 'What is Art?' to 'What is Life?' By changing the frame, we open up a space for art to be public, open, raw, messy, accessible, plus a whole new category of artists. I am not saying that all art is equivalent - it isn't. What's more, we need this - it creates a space for aspiration to excellence. The point is not to devalue the term 'artist' , it is to call for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what this actually means so that there is a space for all.
3. Business is not a dirty word. It can be a dirty business though! Being an artist doesn't mean you can't be practical. The rhetoric of 'getting a real job' has finally been recognised as outdated so why hasn't our attitude towards artists changed? As a social entrepreneur, I constantly battle the stereotype 'You're too business minded to be an artist'. Finding ways to help people to build sustainable creative careers balancing their need to earn with their need to create is about as creative as it comes. We need more recognition of the art of business, as well as the business of art.
4. Art can hide in plain sight. Ever been to an arts event where the 'right' people met in the 'right' space so everything clicked together in such a way that you felt like the Universe was just in harmony? Sorry Universe, you can't take all the credit here - there's someone working behind the scenes to orchestrate the whole experience - it's organic but not accidental. That person is a hidden artist. Being a Creative Producer can sometimes feel like that. You aren't always the one creating something visible, or performing it or writing it down. Producing is about birthing great ideas, making taste, bringing people and spaces together in creative and interesting ways.
5. Don't confuse art and fame. As I've already said, the spectrum creates the space for aspiration. We need a set of measures to aspire to excellence, and that is one way to mark success. By opening up the definition of 'artist', we also open ourselves up to a huge number of alternative measures of success. What are you looking for? Is it quality? Is it recognition? Is it challenging the norm and sparking change? Own it! Artistry can be about aspiration, not always ambition. You decide your metric and hold yourself to it. As Einstein said - "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." Yup.
6. Art is evolving and therefore so is the artist. The role of the spectator of art has changed. Participatory art and social practice has fantastically blurred the lines so that there is a less solid distinction between consumer and artist. This has opened up an alternative for people to be empowered to engage with art in new ways - or, as I like to think of it, stepping into the mess. Be a part of it. As life becomes before rational, more efficiency driven, a new world order may very well depend on you unleashing your creativity.
7. Play your part in the ecosystem. We're all part of a wide, rich tapestry of artists, makers, entrepreneurs, architects, designers, activists. Everyone has a part to play; to give and take, to consume and create. Every person, every role is important. Unfortunately, the attention, praise and even the financial rewards of great art can sometimes become focused on one part of the ecosystem. Would Beyoncé have sold so many records without an army of stylists, producers, songwriters - each artists in their own right? We need to recognise this phenomenon and value both our own place and the support we receive from others within the living organism we call art.
8. It's what you do. Not what you say you do. I'm all for people giving themselves titles they can grow into (my business card said CEO before Beatfreeks was even registered!). What made me a CEO though was not the card, it was being one - building a business, galvanizing a team, finding that first partner to make magic with. It's your attitude, your intention and the manifestation of those things into action and behaviour that makes you become the thing you say you are. If you're creating and making - are you not being an artist?
9. Only you can decide if you're an artist. Confidence is the final piece. It's not so much about who gives you the title but if you give it yourself, and if you believe it. Even if you don't, cultivate a space to grow and work on yourself and your craft and the rest may just fall into place. I'm only still working out myself what being an artist means to me - that's why I am writing this blog. It was the courage in my conviction that everyone is an artist that pushed me to apply for the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship, despite struggling with not feeling 'good enough'. Winning the Scholarship has given me the support, space and mentorship to build my confidence and practice. I hope to use this opportunity to share my journey through blogs like this to encourage others to be confident in their creativity.
So, repeat after me - 'I am an artist'.