Recently this question was posed in an artist blog: “Can someone give me the description of a professional artist?” The responses were many and varied: You need to have an MFA, to be represented by a gallery, to be recognized by top museums of the world, to be making a living at it, to support your lifestyle and the list goes on and on.
So now I pose the question: “What is a “real” artist?” Is a real artist a professional? What about the artist that has been creating their entire life with no recognition at all? The artist with no formal education? Can these people be considered real artists? Some artists paint painstakingly what they see. Some artists paint painstakingly what they feel. Are they real artists? What about the artist that has to create because it must be done? The artist that has no need for the limelight or an MFA? The artist that has only the need to create and the desire and ability to move people with what they pour out onto the canvas, whatever that canvas may be? What about that artist? Is that a real artist?
One dictionary definition of an artist: Expert, adept, proficient; skilled technician
Artists that I have admired over the years that had no formal training: Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh, to name a few. Many of these artists had tortured lives. They didn’t experience commercial success though they were very productive and poured their souls onto the canvas because they had to. A few were successful in their lifetime, but most weren’t. Salvador Dali knew how to market himself and his work for the time he was here. In contrast, consider Vincent Van Gogh, who struggled to make it as an artist against much opposition. His work, as it turns out, is brilliant. Some of these artists did find their way to formal education, but not until after many years of proving themselves through their early work. Eventually someone saw something in them and they were helped to get the education they needed to get ahead. To me, these are people born to the arts. They had the heart and soul of true artists.
I personally believe that there are many types of artists and those born with the soul and heart dedicated to making art is the truest. Certainly there are brilliant technicians that have spent many years studying the world of art and all its techniques. There are many artists who hold prestigious degrees. There are people out there that can technically create to such precision that it amazes. I am certainly not saying education doesn’t matter. I myself took my first art lessons when I was a child and my mother saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. I believe it is important to know what you’re doing. It is necessary to learn your medium. I don’t believe that a college degree makes an artist, but this definition indicates that an artist should be “expert, skilled, and proficient.” Being a painter in the Northeast, I have found that having a degree is important to getting ahead. I can only assume it’s because there is such a large concentration of Ivy League colleges in this area that it generates that kind of attitude. I have painted in many areas in the United States as well as in other countries and this is what I see happening in the New England area.
In the end though, with or without advanced degrees in the arts, what I believe is most important is that the work moves people emotionally. All the training in the world doesn’t matter if the work does not speak to people. If you’re truly an artist, your work will speak to people and emotionally move them. And that can’t be purchased.