“There is a boundary between being a student and becoming an artist. What this boundary is made of I am not sure. I think it is about identity. At some party someone will ask you what you do, and you will reply, ‘I’m an artist.’ You have to summon up the courage to say it. You may not have total confidence in that reply but you have crossed a boundary.” (Grayson Perry 2014: 125)

I picked up Grayson Perry’s 2014 book on contemporary art Playing to the Gallery at the weekend, and finished it in a couple of sittings. Lots of it is very interesting and thought-provoking, even if I didn’t agree with it all (for example, he has a chapter on attempting to draw some ‘boundary markers’ for defining art, and one of his sub-headings is simply “Photography. Problematic.”). Overall I found it more concerned with art as a milieu than an activity (the art world, art school, art as a profession) but he writes so well that I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary art.

Anyway, the quote above jumped out at me as it articulates really well something that has been bubbling up inside me for a while:

I’m very self-conscious about describing myself as an artist.

I find it very difficult to get the words out. I can list a number of circumstantial and sociological excuses – I’m a middle-aged, white, Northern English male from a working class family, and my career up until recently was in the distinctly non-artistic area of IT project management – but at the end of the day it’s up to me how I do and don’t describe myself, so I need to set aside the excuses and decide whether I want to call myself an artist or not.

I’m into the fifth year of doing an arts degree, with a college with the word Arts in its name. You’d think I’d be able to admit to being artistic by now…

An obvious determinant as to whether I self-define as an artist is whether what I produce is ‘art’. There are any number of competing definitions of what art is; indeed I recently supported a crowd-funded book on exactly this subject, Robert Good’s A New Dictionary of Art (2017), which lists about 3000 definitions of that one word. As mentioned above, Grayson Perry devotes a chapter of Playing to the Gallery to trying to put some kind of boundaries around what it is and isn’t art, but his ‘markers’ prompt as many questions as answers if you ask me.

I don’t intend to answer the question ‘“Is what I do art?” here and now. But I wanted to lay down here my awkwardness with assuming the mantle of artist, hoping that in doing so I become less awkward about it going forward.

Maybe one of my resolutions for 2018 should be to say “I’m an artist” without cringing or self-deprecation.


Good, R. (2017) A New Dictionary of Art. Henley: Peculiarity Press

Perry, G. (2014) Playing to the Gallery. London: Penguin