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I thought I might discuss something that came up in another blog I read recently. That is, what title does our occupation have? Some of you might disagree strongly with this, and that's why there is a comments page.
I NEVER CALL MYSELF AN ARTIST!
To me it sounds pretentious and a little too casual. I am always flattered when other people call me an artist, but I call myself a painter. If people ask what I do, I say " I am a professional oil painter". If people ask "Are you an artist" I reply "Oh! I sure hope so!"
I was told as a student long ago that "A painter who calls himself an artist, is like a priest who calls himself a saint" and I always liked the idea. In fact I think it encourages people to think I am an artist more than my telling them so, they like "giving" me the appellation themselves. It makes em feel generous.
I have noticed that a lot of the pros, at least here in New England will tell you they are a painter rather than an artist. I know a lot of the old timers did that. I think it is probably a 19th century convention, and I do like old timey ideas and things. I am the derriere garde. Calling yourself a painter carries a sort of humility and it is also a code word. When someone tells me they are an artist, I usually expect them to be an amateur. When I hear a stranger tell me they are a painter, my ears pick up and I think I am probably meeting a pro.
When I am at openings there is always some blowhard dressed in black, wearing a beret and loudly telling anyone who will listen " I am an artist!". I fight the urge to ask,"Do you file quarterlies?" but I might ask " NO kidding, maybe I've seen your work, where are you showing?"
I suspect that at at least a subconscious level a lot of people think the speaker is "putting on airs". Even if I didn't have a philosophical reason for calling myself a painter and not an artist, I would still do it for business reasons. It seems more professional to the dealers and clients.
I will never talk a painter down in front of a client, dealer or almost anyone else. I believe this is unprofessional. If their work is weak, others will eventually see it without your pointing it out anyway. I may say very little about their art, but I try not to dump on them. I do this for several reasons. The first is, they may well be trying to feed themselves and their family and I don't want to pull the bread out of their childrens mouths. The other is that it often gets back to them and you might incur a lifetime of resentment, and deserve it too.
Sometimes you will hear an artist ( yes, I happily use that title for OTHER people) run down the work of another artist to build up their own standing with their listeners. That seldom is really effective and instead makes you look insecure at best, and petty at the worst. You will seem confident when you find a good word to say when another artists work is pointed out to you. If you can't figure out anything good to say, try "I like that red" or whatever color dominates the painting. Or remark on it's subject "those are strong looking horses aren't they?" People are really invested in their art, if they aren't hardened pros they may be desperately sensitive to criticism, especially when it is neither private or constructive. They may wear their nervous system on the outside. You can really hurt people with a single casual remark. This is especially true if you are a successful or well known painter, so be kind.
When I am in the company of a trusted friend who is a pro, I may say what I think of a particular painting, but never in earshot of anyone else and only if I know it will go no further. I also feel free to criticize big time New York modernist painters who couldn't possibly be wounded by midgets like me and have such colossal egos that I wish they could be. The dead are also fair game for criticism, unless you are talking to their relatives. I have no problem hurting the feelings of someone who has been dead for a hundred years.
This is a professional courtesy I extend to my fellow artists, and hope for in return. Making it as a painter is hard enough without other artists sabotaging you.