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Title

What Is An Artist?

I went all the way to France to write my book. But that didn't make it any easier.

Chapter One. Page One.

The bright white of the paper glared accusingly. How do I begin?

At the café, the proprietor noticed the blank notebook and my heavy sighs. He asked what was I writing?

I told him that I’m writing a book about what it is to be an artist.

He nodded knowingly as he wiped the table, “It is a good thing to be an artist.”

He told me that being an artist is about being aware. He said that artists notice colors in the tree. Artists see the light in other people’s eyes. Artists stop to listen to birds sing their song. Artists, he declared, find beauty in everything.

”But,” he added with a Gallic shrug, “I am not an artist.”

“I’m going to steal your words anyway,” I told him, as I finally started writing, grateful for the inspiration.

In his brilliant Reith Lecture series, British artist Grayson Perry told the story a museum curator who asked a group of schoolchildren ‘What is an artist?’.

One little girl offered, “Artists are people who sit at Starbucks and eat organic food.”

After touring the museum, the curator posed the question again. This time the little girl responded, “Artists are people who notice things.”

It takes a special kind of person to notice things. It takes courage to create something from those observations.

I believe that the best artists are makers; they notice, they think, they work and they produce.

The real life of an artist is a far cry from popular culture depictions – slothful drunks, starving dreamers, and Starbucks-sipping hippies. 

Nor does the work of an artist entail thoughtlessly throwing a worthless pile of rocks in the corner, attaching a high price tag, and calling it art – laughing all the way to the bank. We are not charlatans.

The real life of an artist goes beyond labels into how we create meaning in the world, and the intentions behind the choices we make.

For being an artist isn’t just what artists do, it’s who we are.

Artists are people who notice things and find significance there, they draw connections. Artists are people who make art as a symbol, a keepsake, a mark of that experience of noticing.

By turning this impulse into a practice, an artist develops the skills to craft this work consistently and thoughtfully.

This is the work of an artist.

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