Artist, Designer, Artisan… what’s the difference?

When I was doing my degree in Visual Arts and Design we had weekly studio sessions where we all visited everyone’s studio space to critique the progress of each individuals work. It was a great opportunity to get feedback & encouragement from peers & tutor or lecturer, but also served to sow seeds of doubt in my mind about whether or not I was in fact an artist. Up to that point in my life I had always thought of myself as an artist and planned to earn my living being one… even though I did not know exactly how I would achieve that. I loved to draw from a very young age, started to photograph with my father’s SLR as a preteen and dropped one subject in my HSC in order to do two lots of HSC art classes. Then suddenly in my early twenties I found myself surrounded by what I thought to be real artists, not just creative types but those types who are arty to the core.  That was when I began to question whether or not I actually had the right to call myself an artist. My peers often commented on how they thought of me as more of a designer than an artist. I loved my design classes and did very well in them, but I didn’t feel that I fitted that mould entirely either, especially since I took great pleasure in creating not just designing. This feeling of not belonging to any particular role was rather unsettling, but rather than giving up on the idea of earning my living as an artist I decided it would be better to create a path that suited my skills and abilities rather than trying to fit into moulds that really were not suited to me. This is what your youth should be about… getting to know who you are, then building on your strengths and abilities from there. By my mid 20’s I believed I knew who I was and what I was about, I was an artist who used photography as her medium!

Twenty years later, now a mother of two beautiful boys and a slight detour in my creative career to suit my situation… and that same question still hovers in the back of my mind… can I really call myself an artist?

I contribute some of my time as a volunteer in an organisation called YASSarts which was founded by the late Kim Nelson; an extremely talented artist (painter) along with another extremely talented artist (sculptor) Al Phemister. Kim was someone who saw all artistic forms as ‘art’ and it was his passion for connecting the arts, representing it as a whole that led me to volunteer my time to assist with promoting the arts in our region. He would notice the smallest detail of what I was wearing and comment, often asking if I made an item I was wearing. One day he asked about a my sandals, well actually he said: “Love your boots, did you make them?” The term boots threw me, but that did not stop from sharing with him the fact that I had not made that particular pair myself, but planned to learn to make sandals similar and described my vision for them (eventually I did, which you can read about here) his response to that was; “See you are an artist… that’s art!”

When he then asked me to exhibit with him and three other local artists, I did not feel like I should be exhibiting along side them, but agreed to it as I adored Kim and what he stood for, especially the fact that he believed whole heartedly in art being many forms.  Our exhibition consisted of three painters, a wooden toy & puzzle maker and me. For the month of September in 2014 we held our exhibition ‘An Odd Collection of Fellows’ in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Yass… formerly Kim’s gallery and public studio. It was a wonderful experience. One of the artists was also a body painter, and to cap off our exhibition we all got involved in a body painting… it had been years since I last picked up a brush to paint anything other than furniture.

An Odd Collection of Fellows

An Odd Collection of Fellows – September 2014  Kim Nelson (bottom left)

When people discover I am a member of the YASSarts Committee they often ask me; “Oh what kind of art do you do?” Which I usually follow up with: “Well I don’t actually think of myself as an artist…!” For some reason that seems to just roll off my tongue, all these years of paving my own creative path I still can’t seem to own the title artist. I’ve felt a lot more comfortable using titles like, photographer, artist & designer (together) and more recently ‘artisan’. Why artisan? The more thought I’ve put in to what I do and how that differs from being an ‘artist’ the more I’ve started to see that artist’s today are more often creators of work that evoke emotional responses or challenge the viewers thinking based on current issues or the artist’s individual feelings and/or experiences. Where as an artisan, I feel I create works that have a function, they can still evoke an emotional response… be it nostalgia when it comes to old woollen blankets; with the use of kangaroo leather the response is sometimes concern for the welfare of the animal, and even appreciation for the fact that the skins of these animals are not going to waste, others respond with intrigue having never experienced kangaroo leather before, creating a response of curiosity of it’s properties of being light weight yet strong. To my feather work, some people respond with; “oh those poor birds” while others say; “how fantastic that the whole bird is being used.” So I guess in that respect one could argue that my work is in fact art! All that said, I feel most comfortable sticking with the title of ‘artisan’.

Dictionary meanings….

Artist:  A person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby; A person who practices any of the creative arts such as a sculptor, film maker, actor, dancer; A person skilled at a particular task or occupation.

Artisan: A worker in a skilled trade, especially that involves making things by hand. Street makers where local artisans display hand-woven textiles, painted ceramics, and leather goods.

Designer: The person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans. 

In the end I believe we each need to find our own sense of purpose in whatever role that may be… knowing yourself, your skills and using them to contribute to your community both locally and globally is what really matters. Not so much the title itself, but of course it always helps to describe what you do in a short succinct straight to the point phrase… I am an artisan. Allowing questions to follow that start an interesting conversation and an opportunity to share your message, like; “I rescue and repurpose the old and discarded, transforming them into functional statement pieces.” You may not have the opportunity to say this by starting with the phrase; I don’t think of myself as…”

My Rescued and Repurposed Range

Rescued and Repurposed Range

So finding that title is important for your own self confidence, but more importantly is first finding your purpose. I feel like mine is encourage others to see value in resources that they may otherwise regard as waste.

We each have an important role to play in this world in our very own special way. Embrace who you are and thrive!

<<== by marie-nicole ==>>



Ps. Sadly Kim Nelson passed away in August of this year leaving a huge hole in the hearts of many including mine…