I was at a talk a while ago. One of the speakers, a university professor, fine art faculty, said his university graduated 30 artists every year.

I beg to differ.

Art colleges don’t graduate artists, they graduate, well . . . they graduate people with a fine art degree. Whether you actually become an artist or not remains to be seen. Art students referring to themselves as artists seems a bit premature to me. Sure, it’s a swell idea, just not one grounded in anything real.

Even after graduation there is no guarantee that you will become an artist, that you will have anything to say. How many art school grads fall by the wayside after a few years, sick of being broke and frustrated, sick of finally figuring out that they are not, in fact, artists?

Because being an artist is something you earn. It’s not an idea.

The same holds true, in my opinion, for those who have stuck with it, practiced. The need to label yourself as an artist is an indulgence that causes me (for one) to question your motives. (Having exhibitions and getting noticed doesn’t make you an artist, except in the broadest, least critical terms.) The way I see it is, if you have some deep-seated need to insist upon being called an artist, there’s a good chance that that need has caused you to put the idea before the reality. Calling what you do art because you call yourself an artist brings to mind Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because what you do is popular means it’s art. Lots of popular stuff in the Arts is crap.

(For the sake of full disclosure: If asked I’ll say I’m a photographer, but in my brain I think of myself as just a person trying to learn a thing or two and, maybe, make some sense. I leave it to others to add any further labels to what I do.)


Author: Tony Fouhse

Tony is an Ottawa-based photographer.