What It Means To Be an Artist

egyptian art

egyptian art (Photo credit: maureencrosbie)

There are two perspectives that I’ve come to appreciate that are equally important in understanding what it means to be creative and a creative professional; everyone is creative, but not everyone that is creative is a creative professional.

Creativity is a way of thinking that anyone can tap into as long as the conditions are right.  A creative professional is someone who sets out to create an income from their creative pursuits and hopefully become well known in their line of work.

Now this may seem like a no brainer, but sometimes folks get the two confused and beat themselves up over unrealistic expectations. They may wonder why they’re not a successful professional if they’re considered creative. There could be many reasons why a creative person isn’t successful in his/her own eyes, but that doesn’t mean s/he isn’t creative and that in itself is a valued treasure.

Creativity is the capacity to see patterns and connect ideas and experiences in ways that are novel and useful. The creative urge can be soothed in everyday activities such as cooking or gardening. We make creative decisions everyday by just changing something that already exists, or creating something completely new. As a curator for a non-profit gallery, I found aspects of my work very satisfying creatively.

Young children have a great capacity for creativity because they haven’t established a list of ideals that strong hold them into performing for praise, money or status. Also, they haven’t been conditioned to fear things that are different or unusual. A lack of these insights can hinder your creativity.

Creativity is also color blind, status neutral, age impartial and independent of your IQ. Current research and breakthroughs in how we understand creativity support this. The upshot is, we are capable of creative thought at any point in our lives. It’s a muscle that needs to be used and conditioned. As John Cleese so eloquently stated in his speech on creativity, “creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

Abraham Maslow believed that creativity was part of our higher level of needs and that once our basic physiological, safety as well as love/belongingness needs were met, creativity was an important step to self actualization.

English: Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Resized,...

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m grateful for non-profit organizations because they allow us to participate and fulfill our need for creative expression and self actualization. They allow us to take part as a community and individually in acts of expression.

Many non-profit organizations administer our public art programs, local non-profit and artist run galleries, festivals and community art programs for children and adults. Volunteerism in this sector is huge and if it wasn’t for volunteers many of these organizations wouldn’t survive.


Sometimes we affix labels to our creativity. Labels such as “artist”, but this can be a slippery slope for many, full of associations and implications. Visit a LinkedIn creative group and listen to the conversation going on and you’ll find all kinds of tête-à-tête on what an artist is and is not. People become very passionate about their beliefs and judgemental about the talent of others.

The word “artist” is a very broad label, which can change meaning depending on your geographical area and traditions.The noun “artist”, as used today, is wide-ranging. Often creative’s can be left with a feeling that it’s become a bit of a cliché and formulaic when used to describe an activity or person.

While creativity is a way to connect with our inner truth and wisdom, as well as share that knowledge with others, being a creative professional is taking it a step further by sharing our knowledge and talents with others as a career choice.

For some, painting, playing music, writing, acting, etc, is a pursuit in the name of pleasure. It is a way to connect with a need to express an inner feeling on a personal level. It can be an emotional and spiritual experience. I think this is why many choose to pursue art. It can be exciting to bring something new into the world, especially something that holds beauty and makes visible the invisible.

Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self. ~ Yohji Yamamoto

Sometimes, in the pursuit of creative expression, people find themselves with a room full of paintings or a drawer full of beautifully designed handmade jewellery and with all the positive feedback they have received they would naturally think of turning their hobby into a business. It’s a decision a person should make through careful consideration, because being self-employed involves so much more than just creating.

Understandably, it’s at this point most people feel challenged, because it takes a lot of stamina, focus and planning, which can be overwhelming. It also takes time and skills that go beyond creation and creativity. Working for someone else is easy, you just need to show up, while working for yourself can bring many challenges that you may have not anticipated.

To be a professional artist means you have chosen the path of self employment through channels of expression and visual representation. As a self-employed person, an entrepreneur or, as some like to say, an artrepreneur, you are responsible for all operations that guarantee your work gets out into the world where people can see it, taste it, feel it or hear it. If you don’t, then you’re not fully committed to being a professional artist.

When I give myself a label on my CV or social media profile, the label is there to help others understand what I do and what my interests are, but labels don’t identify my talents. Only physical representation of my work can identify my skill level and talent as an artist. I can call myself an artist, but I’ll need other qualifiers such as sales or respect by others in my field to gain respect with others in my field and offer something of value to others.

Artist’s of today are incredibly talented in many areas of business and creation. Whether it’s part-time or full-time, artists build and manage their own website, connect socially online, prepare and package their portfolio, manage their day-to-day business operations, and plan marketing strategies, as well as long-term goals.

I’m getting tired just thinking about it!

Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but it’s not impossible and it’s not a race to the finish line. So, if you have your sights on being a professional artist, just take it one step at a time. If it becomes overwhelming let’s have a good shout together, because as someone who just made the leap into self-employment, I hear you.

What’s your biggest challenge? 

If you liked this post and found it useful, please feel free to share.


3 thoughts on “What It Means To Be an Artist

  1. […] What It Means To Be an Artist (filiokondylisart.com) […]

  2. Another great post Filio 🙂

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