Recently I was asked to fill out a media profile for a show and this was the first question on the list. It stopped me for a minute. When people ask you what you do, how do you respond? The answer to this question has a lot to do with how long you have been making your craft and how confident you are in your work.
Like many others I dabbled all my life with crafts but I would never have used the A word (artist) to describe myself. Oh no, not me. I did the maths and science thing in school. I worked in business. My mother and sister were in the arts. But not me, I was absolutely not an artist, nor an artisan, not even a crafter.
It took me about 3 years of being a full-time seller of my work before I could use this word. It still felt fake, like I was talking about someone else. It took another year or so before I could not only use this word to describe myself but to actually feel like it was who I was. Me, I am an artist. I actually like the word Maker.
Growing into your persona as an artist means growing into your confidence to promote yourself and charge what you are worth. It is a necessary step to thriving in an arts career. At high end craft shows every vendor refers to themselves as an artist, we have been doing this long enough that of course we’re artists. At small shows, where it may be someone’s first time selling try asking the vendors if they are the artist. Watch their body language. We’re back to the squirming and not making eye contact. The word “artist” sits heavily on them and it’s like a costume they’re trying on.
You need to grow into the word and learn to take ownership of it. As an artist you have the right to charge for your time, for your skills, for your sense of design and your imagination. Being an artist or an artisan is a valid occupation. It is more than an occupation, being an artist involves using your soul as well as your imagination and your brain. It is a scary thing to put your whole self out there for the world to see.
People who chose to buy handmade do so because they are looking for a connection with the maker of the work. If a customer just wanted a pair of earrings they would go to a mall. Customers buying handmade work online or at a show are looking for a story, an insight into your work, a piece of the creative magic that is you. They want to meet the creator. You cannot fidget or squirm, that doesn’t give them confidence in you. Do not denigrate your work by trivializing it, “oh it’s nothing really, just something I do in front of the TV”. (Seriously, I heard someone describe her paintings this way). When someone asks “are you the artist?” this is your cue to stand tall, look them in the eye and say “yes, I am the artist/artisan/crafter”. Own the word.
So let me ask you, how do you refer to yourself?