Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Do you call yourself an artist? / Prenez-vous le titre d’artiste?

2010 . 07 . 26 - Comments / Commentaires (12)

Recently, I heard someone tell the story of the man who called himself an artist and then died. According to the teller, the moral is this: one can only call oneself an artist when one is whole, complete, and, in a manner of speaking, finished.

I don’t buy it. Not even in a metaphorical sense. “Artist” is just a word, and, though labels are important, they can’t kill a person all by themselves. 

Il n’y a pas longtemps, j’ai entendu quelqu’un raconter l’histoire de l’homme qui s’est donné le titre d’artiste et en mourut. Selon celui qui racontait cette histoire, la morale est celle-ci: on a droit au titre d’artiste seulement quand on est accompli, parfait, et, en quelque sorte, «fini.»

Je ne suis pas d’accord. «Artiste» n’est qu’un mot, et, même si un titre peut être important, il ne peut pas tuer quelqu’un.


The term “artist” has a lot of meanings. If you call yourself an artist, some people will think that you’re starving and feckless, others will assume that you’re a dilettante, and a few may fear you for being a radical or an eccentric.

«Artiste» a plusieurs sens. Si vous vous appelez vous-même un artiste, certains penseront que vous êtes pauvre, d’autres supposeront que vous n’êtes qu’un dilettante, et quelques-uns vous traiteront de gauchiste ou révolutionnaire.


But “artist” can also be a good way to designate someone who makes art. It’s an easy way of identifying yourself when you’re an artist because it’s a word that communicates something about what you do.

Mais «artiste» peut aussi être une façon simple de désigner une personne qui fait de l’art. C’est un moyen facile de vous identifier lorsque vous êtes un artiste parce que c’est un mot qui donne une idée de ce que vous faites.


I never had a crisis over what to call myself. I never thought that I didn’t deserve to call myself an artist, and I always thought it was because I was above getting mired in semantics—at least where this particular word is concerned!

Je n’ai jamais eu le sentiment de ne pas mériter le titre d’artiste, et j’ai toujours pensé que c’était parce que j’étais immunisée contre les embrouillements sémantiques—tout au moins lorsque ce mot là est en cause!


But, when I think about it, I can see that it may have more to do with the fact that I work in a favored medium. As a painter, my output isn’t usually questioned. In a world where social practice and other esoteric forms of conceptual art are trying to blur the line between just having a beer with friends and having-a-beer-with-friends-as-art, almost any kind of painting qualifies as art.

Mais quand j’y pense, je vois que cela a peut-être plus à voir avec le fait que je travaille avec une matière privilégiée. En tant que peintre, ma production n’est pas souvent remise en question. Dans un monde où des formes ésotériques d’art conceptuel confondent même les érudits, tout ce qui est peinture peut, en principe, être qualifié d’art.


Is “artist” one of those labels that someone else has to call you? Or are the people who have trouble calling themselves artists just reassigning the trouble they have calling what they make art? Can a word kill you or make you something you’re not?

“That which we call an artist by any other name would smell as sweet.” After all, does it matter what Shakespeare called himself?

Est-ce que quelqu’un d’autre doit vous donner le titre «artiste»? Ou est-ce que les gens qui ont du mal à utiliser ce titre ont tout simplement du mal à classer ce qu’ils font comme de l’art? Un mot peut-il tuer une personne ou lui donner des forces qu’elle n’a pas déjà?

«Celui que nous appelons un artiste sous un autre nom sentirait aussi bon.» Peu importe quel titre Shakespeare aurait préféré...

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(12) Comments / Commentaires: Do you call yourself an artist? / Prenez-vous le titre d’artiste?

-- Marc Snyder -- 2010 . 07 . 26 --

I tend to say, when asked, that I’m a printmaker.  It’s more specific and it gives the asker something to latch on to - an opening for conversation.  “Art” and “Artist” as commonly used have such wide definitions as to be almost meaningless.  My personal definitions are much narrower, but that isn’t helpful when someone asks “what do you do”?  “Art” tends to carry hierarchical ideas about quality for many, so “I make prints, drawings, and artist’s books” gives people more of an opening to look further - I let them decide if what I do meets their criteria for “art”.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 07 . 26 --

Good point!

Sometimes I call myself a painter, but then the response is usually “house painter?”  When that happens, I refuse to actively fight with people’s stereotypes of artists: either my work and my career will be enough to change their minds or not!

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-- Splingart Brigitte -- 2010 . 07 . 27 --

Tu es une artiste, un peintre merveilleux, un conteur plein de bon sens, tu fais l’effort de t’adresser à nous en français et celà représente pour toi beaucoup de travail, alors tu mérites vraiment ton titre “Gwenn est une artiste”
Plein de bizzzzzzes de France.

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-- David -- 2010 . 07 . 27 --

When your title can be or is something that’s traditional, it makes things easier. If you are successful as a print maker, photographer or painter for instance, then you can be easily understood. However, if you are a conceptual artist then it is something that must be explained.

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-- Gail Rhyno -- 2010 . 08 . 28 --

I absolutely loath the question ‘So, what do you do?’.  I mean, I see it coming and I head for the hills.  So much meaning tied to the word Artist, judgement in the work as Art.  I teacher I had once said that we should say we ‘do creative works’ and leave it at that unless pressed further to be specific. I would not call myself an artist, but yet, when a friend calls me an artist I feel great pride. When my husband calls me an artist I know he implies that I am scattered, that I work when inspired rather than when I have work to do. And most importantly, that I feel awful when I can be creative.  I think to many folks an artist is a painter.  To me, an artist is someone who makes art, which is not the same thing. So I know I do pass some judgement with the word, maybe that’s why I don’t call myself an artist.  Yet…were I face to face with my younger self I would say ‘you are an artist and don’t let anyone tell you different’ because the label can empower.  I think anyone who can embrace the word is on the right track.  At present, my arms don’t quite reach all the way around smile

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-- cjy -- 2010 . 08 . 31 --

I’m with Marc. The title artist is overused and when applied to anyone and everyone it does feel watered down. I call myself a painter and I get the question sometimes too - pictures or houses? But I don’t mind. I also much prefer being referred to by others as a painter. It has nothing to do with whether or not I consider my paintings art. Yes I make art. It just sounds lofty and weird to me most of the time to refer to one’s self as an artist. I actually do think it is an endless journey.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 09 . 02 --

I feel that way about the word “master.”  It’s overused and lofty, and I think a person should die as soon as they call themselves a master!

But the word “master” is all about status and hierarchy.  “Master” doesn’t just suggest mastery, its definition is “a person with mastery of a particular art or trade.” 

“Master” has no other meaning, and in that way it’s different from the word “artist,” which has a descriptive meaning.  “Artist” may imply mastery to some people, but it’s also a really good way to describe someone who makes art.

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-- idalia -- 2010 . 09 . 09 --

An artist is spontaneous, original, and is able to use anything at hand to create what he or she foresaw in his thought.  An artist never copies or reproduces other’s work.  He or she are always in search for that which arises from emotion; from within… Sometimes art needs the guidelines of the elements of design.

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-- Jean-Marc Robert -- 2011 . 08 . 28 --

Sais pas si je suis vraiment un artiste, mais j’en fais, comme je fais aussi du dessin technique pour vivre, donc je suis aussi dessinateur technique…

La différence mon travail me fait vivre mais je vis pour peindre, dessiner, parfois photographier…

I don’t know if I really am an artiste, but I do art, as I also do technical drafting for a living, I guess the difference is I need to work to make a living, but I live for painting, drawing and sometimes photographying…

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-- mogat jean-claude -- 2012 . 02 . 10 --

Gwenn voici la définition du mot artiste dans le dictionnaire. Je pense qu’elle renvoi très bien a l’idée que je me fait d’un artiste .
Celui, celle qui cultive un art, qui pratique un des beaux-arts.
A.− Artisan qui excelle dans son travail, qui a acquis une technique, une maîtrise d’exécution, un savoir-faire qui lui permet de reproduire habilement un modèle ou même d’en inventer de nouveaux :

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-- Anne -- 2012 . 12 . 06 --

“Artiste”....c’est un mot complexe qui suggère l’imagination, la création, la communication. Pour moi, ce nom parle aussi d’offrir et de partager, de montrer et d’enseigner. Ce nom sous-entend aussi plaisir et souffrance; confiance et doute, ordre et désordre, générosité et égoïsme; fierté et humilité...
Me donner moi-même le nom d’artiste ne me convient pas mais comme Gail Rhyno, j’apprécie que mes amis me le disent ! Et je me retrouve très bien dans la phrase de son mari: << When my husband calls me an artist I know he implies that I am scattered, that I work when inspired rather than when I have work to do. >>  Je prends cela comme une faculté,  celle de voir ce que les “autres” ne voient pas;  un don qui me permet de pouvoir reproduire avec sincérité ce que mon imagination et mes sentiments me proposent (...même si mes mains n’y arrivent pas toujours !). Pour moi, cela ne se limite pas seulement à la peinture et aux beaux-arts, mais c’est plus vaste, cela concerne “l’amour du travail bien fait”. La certitude d’avoir donné le meilleur de soi pour construire, réparer, recycler, concevoir, créer. Le meilleur, c’est le “retour”: lorsque la personne apprécie l’oeuvre parce qu’elle en ressent non seulement plaisir et joie mais aussi réconfort ou apaisement.

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-- Phoebe Thomasson -- 2016 . 11 . 19 --

It’s taken a while to own it, but I feel most fully an artist when actually painting, but It also defines all of me; the way I think, my emotional life, my failings and flakeyness, my poetic nature, my industriousness, my growing mastery of my medium. I think it is possibly the most demanding label invented, but I don’t fit anywhere else so I own it and make it mine. Art is about how we see things. Expand to fit the label, don’t let it restrict you!! 😊

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