The Scarecrow Artist

I recently had a long email conversation with a young, aspiring quilt artist whose name is Julie. She sent me an email to tell me how she admired some of my artwork and that “one day”, she wanted to become a “real” artist. Currently she considered art quilting only her “hobby”. In subsequent email exchanges she sent me photos of her work. Her artwork is truly beautiful, stunning in fact.

I asked her why she didn’t consider herself a “real” artist. She listed a multitude of reasons: No art degree, she could only afford inferior supplies and fabric, her sewing machine was old, she only able to work on her art only after work and couldn't do it full time, she could not get “good enough” photos of her artwork, she had never sold anything…the list went on and on and on.

I was curious what her art meant to her, so I inquired. “Everything! It makes my soul sing! I am most happy when creating art!”, she replied. I told her in my mind at least, she was and is a real artist. She thanked me but politely argued otherwise, reiterating the variety of reasons she already listed.  I thought this very interesting. It made me think of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz when he said “If I only had a brain”. By making that comparison I in no way imply that this young lady is brainless or has impaired judgment of any kind. The comparison is the Scarecrow who refuses to own his intellect until it is validated by someone else and by his “honorary” degree. As you recall, everyone else knew the Scarecrow was smart all along. 

This Scarecrow comparison made me feel sad for this young lady. Here is someone who can create beautiful artwork, but refuses to believe and accept she is an artist. One who can magically turn feeling, emotion and thought into something tangible.

Gently, I tried to encourage Julie to own and accept her inner artist, to no avail. It seems she was intent on remaining a “non artist” until such time the Wizard grants her the honorary title of “artist”. I believe she will have a long walk on that particular yellow brick road.

It prompted me to think about how we, as artists, find our way to our own individual Cities of Oz and what makes us realize we are “real” artists. Art school can’t infer this magical title regardless of how much they tell students they can (or how much tuition they collect). If that were true you would find a lot more people out there who would call themselves  an artist instead of people who call themselves  waiters with an art degree. Does art school make you a better at art? Maybe. Does it make you an artist? No. I know plenty of people with art degrees who never called themselves artist. And I know people with art degrees who create artwork solely for money and have no particular feeling about the artwork itself. I don’t consider these people artists, craftsman perhaps, designers perhaps, but not artists.

Nor does selling artwork doesn't make you an artist either, it makes you a business person. Purchasing top of the line supplies and equipment doesn't make you an artist, it just means you have financial resources. Even having people like your artwork doesn't make you an artist. Always there will be people who don’t care for your artwork. So what is it that makes some of us artist and some of us wannabes?

I believe the answer lies within us. We, as artists, are willing to put it “out there”, consequences be damned. Sure it may sting if someone doesn't like our work, or we don’t get accepted into a show, or worst of all, our work receives criticism or is devalued by someone; still we persevere and continue to create art for art’s sake. We create art because, as Julie put it, “It makes our hearts sing” and makes us feel alive despite whatever else is going on in the world and we want to share that feeling with others.

I am sure that there are others out there who will disagree with me about what makes someone a “real” artist is.  In fact, I am sure of it. But for all you scarecrows out there, take these thoughts from me, for whatever it’s worth. If you love your art and it makes you happy and you want to share it with the world, you are already an artist. All it takes is for you to accept yourself and your artwork. Once you do your life and the depth of your work will change forever. But be aware, the title of artist doesn't come with any guarantees or magical powers. Once the title is claimed, it must be maintained, and that where the real work of a real artist begins.


So good luck my little scarecrows, and may find the end of your yellow brick road and may the gates of Oz always be open to you.


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