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Language and how we think about ourselves and our work

Language and how we think about ourselves and our work

I have been thinking lately about the language I use when speaking about myself and my work. To me it makes a difference in how I feel about what I do.  All through their childhood my children heard me say " Terminology is everything” and I stick with that ideal.  

 

I find that thinking of myself as an artist has a different result on how I think of my work than when I use the word craftsman. In my heart I believe I am a craftsman.  The objects I make and the way that I make them hold a large portion of the emotion I feel for my work. When I think of myself as an artist I find that I am looking more towards the content of the works and possibly am less concerned with process and the beauty of the object. The end result being I am happier with the work I am making when I think of being a craftsman.

Now comes the rub. The 2 terms, labels, words are loaded with meaning for many of us. I am sure you know what I am talking about.  Having spoken to a couple of important friends about this I was told that they think of themselves as printmakers.  This I like. 

What do you call yourself? Does it change your feelings about the work you are making? Do you simply avoid it ? I would very much like to hear from y’all.

Be well,

Ray

9 comments

Larry Huhn

I have never been entirely comfortable with calling myself an artist, but I have felt the term craftsman wasn’t quite accurate either. I added the moniker of “Printmaker” to my website when I started printing more work in gravure, though I was already making prints in platinum, gum and other media. Somehow through the physical act of the gravure process I identified more as a printmaker.

Bill Hushman

when I was working, I considered myself a Craftsman. I installed floorcovering, vinyl flooring, ceramic tile and such. Some of my clients called me an artist when I was finished which made me feel very good as a craftsman. I think Craftsman and Artist can both be used in describing a job well done or an image well recorded…

Yoshio Inoue

I personally find the “printmaker” designation very satisfying and rewarding too. It is the most beautiful and enjoyable name I have ever had in my life. Frankly, I have always hated the term photographer. It may now be a word that defines people who are too frivolous and uncaring.

We might think of it like this. To seeing many old churches in France and Italy, they sometimes have different architectural styles in the lower part and the upper part of the building. For example, most are Romanesque in style at the bottom and Gothic or post-Renaissance at the top. As you know, the Renaissance is praised as a revival of humanity, but on the other hand, there are times when it can be felt that there is an excessive individualistic conception of art. The Romanesque style is old, but it feels simple and powerful. Perhaps the stonemasons who made it did not consider themselves artists. Perhaps what motivated them was a sense of service to God. (I myself am not an enthusiastic religious person, though) Therefore, as a creator, I want to value both feelings…

ron hammond

If somebody asks I say I’m a photographer — that’s a statement of fact. I take photographs, I print photographs. “Artist” is a label that is given but not claimed. If somebody wants to call me an artist that’s fine by me.

Steven Ballinger

It’s an age-old dilemma which although spans across all “fine art” mediums seems to be particularly prominent regarding those who practice photography. Since it’s invention in the early 1800’s photography was never considered a fine art within the art world and even in the ever growing and societally popular photography world. But there were schisms brewing which first erupted in 1892 when a few members of the Photographic Society of Great Britan broke away to form a new group, “The Brotherhood of the Linked Ring”, ( aka: The Linked Ring), with the purpose of bringing “the highest form of Art of which Photography is capable.”
Interestingly, that same year across the pond a young American named Alfred Stieglitz would buy his first camera and begin a lifelong passion. He very soon was unanimously elected as one of the first two American members of the British Linked Ring. In 1896 the American branch of the Linked Ring joined together with another photography organization to form The Camera Club of New York with Stieglitz as the Vice President. So here now we have this organization of prominence at the time with two factions within. Most were photographic traditionalists with a few spearheaded by a very vocal and active member who was VP Alfred Stieglitz pushing photography as a fine art. This schism and the pressures of his tireless work in the club leads Stieglitz to resign in 1901 and in 1902 with encouragement from friends and followers forms The Photo Secession. History speaks for itself and without blathering much further suffice to say Alfred Steiglitz comes to be regarded, even today, as the father of photography as a fine art.

Now, even with this growing public acceptance of photography as an artform and all that evolves within the medium in passing years and with acceptance into the museum world such as major exhibitions at MOMA there still remained another schism and an even deeper one. That being between the medium of photography and the other traditional art mediums.

Where am I going with all of this? From my personal perspective and life experience with photography going back to the early 1970’s this question still existed. Is photography really art? Are photographers artists? And for me this leads to personal conflict as well in being comfortable with calling myself an artist. I went to a University Art School in the early 1980’s. I worked hard and earned a BFA Summa Cum Laude in Fine Art. Yet I can say that the photography department seemed to be in it’s own world from the other mediums departments. Like a sidekick in the art school. As a part of an actual Fine Art school curriculum, one has experience learning in other mediums outside of their preferred practice. I remember first day Level 2 drawing class. The instructor goes around asking names and what your major is. I tell them photography which is met with a giant eye roll and an under breath pffft. It was a semester of disregard and borderline open hostility and try as I did, my worst grade ever.

Now, you could go on to say that was the 80’s, 40 years ago, things are better now, that’s all been resolved, photography is absolutely regarded as a fine art and photographers today are artists! Is it really so? Are they really? Where are we in all of this today?

I am very comfortable within my heart and soul thinking of myself as an artist. What about my public persona? Yes, for me that has been a bit of a conflict. In past discussions people have said, if that’s what you truly are and how you regard yourself then call yourself an artist and I have done so for many years. But I still go back and forth somewhat. Why? Because I tire of the verbal exchanges. “Nice to meet you what do you do?” “I’m an artist.” “What kind of artist? What kind of art do you do?” “Photography.” “Oh….” Then on the other hand if I switch it up… “Nice to meet you what do you do?” “I’m a Photographer.” “Oh! Do you do weddings….”

I finally settled on a signifier for myself. A public persona that I am very comfortable with. One with that when asked, “What do you do?” my reply of “I’m a Photographic Artist.” seems to pique further interest and deeper questions about what I do, (Although trying to come up with those answers is another entire issue.) and it allays their potential preconceived societal clichés surrounding Photographer vs Artist.

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