You may have noticed that there was no Croshare Catch-up for June – that’s because it was a busy month that saw us conclude the practical part of our project for Portsmouth Festivities 2017, Trawl. During this time, the boundaries between ‘art’ being ‘something that we do’ and ‘artist’ being ‘who we are’ became blurred on occasion, something we’d intended to discuss last month in the run-up to the Trawl event. In a way, the ‘break’ between catch-up posts has allowed us to gain more experience on which to base a little discussion, as well as the opportunity to reflect on what we would have posted. So, on to a question we jotted down a few weeks ago.
If you call yourself an artist, is that because it’s who you are, or because it’s what you do?
It feels as though it’s a very personal question. For us, it’s not a case that you’re one or the or other, or indeed that one is better than the other. Since we’ve been working on Croshare, we’ve found that ‘being an artist’ and ‘art being something that you do’ go hand-in-hand. They can be flexible, responsive to the demands of other areas of your life; they can be compartmentalised, reduced and simplified; they can be given the utmost priority, and they can, on occasion, be overwhelming or consuming. It’s a different experience for each individual.
If you are an artist, you may place yourself under pressure to assume that role at all times. It comes with a (stereotypical and often expected) lifestyle, and there’s a certain cultural and societal pressure to produce new works constantly; or, at the very least, to look for inspiration in every nook and cranny, or to make sure you’re thinking constantly about your art and what you could or might do. In this context, being an artist can remove you from the necessary, and disable you from engaging with, or navigating, the world around you in the many and varied ways necessary to live a typical daily life.
On the other hand, being an artist removes you from the mundane and the routine. It can set you aside as someone who can see and hear things differently; someone who can interpret the rustle of the wind in the leaves on the trees in blazes of colour; someone who can see the life in pieces of music or lumps of stone, in a photograph or the movement of a human or creature – someone who lives outside the blinkered monotony of the everyday and creates, imagines and reimagines their way from dawn ‘til dusk, combining talent and skill to create worlds and tell stories. It sounds amazing.
However, if art is ‘simply’ or ‘just’ something that you do, on occasion, it may be the case that you see yourself and/or others see you as a hobbyist or an amateur – how can you create and make art without being an artist? You may not wish your art to permeate all areas of your life – this might even be unwelcome – and you may pick up and put down tools in response to other areas of your life, but… Think of those places and spaces in which you’re not an artist, in which you’re not creating or making art – might there be something happening in or during one of those on which you’re missing out? Has inspiration, or an influence, passed you by? Have you ignored or neglected to notice something on which you might have based the most incredible piece of work you could ever hope to do?
This said, the ability to compartmentalise artistic or creative thinking and behaviours can be essential if you’ve more than one thing on your plate. It means you’re not permanently attached to, or associated with, the sense of ‘chaotic whimsy’ that’s a stereotypical part of most artist identities. It means you can prevent yourself from being distracted, and can focus on what you consider essential and important in the organisation and management of your daily life without interruption. The threat of sudden inspiration isn’t particularly high, and doesn’t encroach on your ability – your decision – to remain objective and rational, two qualities almost always affected by intense creativity or all-consuming artistry.
The truth is, ‘being an artist’ and art ‘being something that you do’ are two sides of the same creative coin; and it’s up to each individual to decide whether to flip it, spin it or leave it resting on one side only. There isn’t a best or worst choice – there are, simply, different choices. You may make one and never again change your mind. You may find yourself flexible to the needs and wants of yourself and your creative practices and change your mind on occasion, often or all the time.
By acknowledging and accepting these differences for ourselves, we’re able to accept them in others. This, in turn, helps break down perceived boundaries amongst and between creative individuals and communities and enables co-operative and collaborative work amongst and between artists and other creative people from different disciplines and backgrounds.
This brings us back, to finish, to the way in which Croshare works. It’s a long-distance art practice born from one artist and one crafter with wildly different lives. We’re aware that our personal relationship with both art and its practice is different – this changes on occasion, being both divergent and aligned depending on what’s going on in each of our lives. This is simply an observation. We welcome these differences and work with them, and welcome also the interesting challenges these throw up as we work on one project and plan others.
The above question isn’t one we intended to answer here. We ask it because the search for an answer itself – that reflection and introspection – becomes something we ask ourselves because it helps us make sure that we’re giving of ourselves in an appropriate and constructive manner flexible and responsive to our personal needs as well as our needs as professionals, the needs of our practice(s) and the needs of our project(s).
Perhaps, if you find yourself in a similar situation, this type of thinking can be of use to you, too.