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When Do We Stop Being Artists?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the activity of creating art, probably because I’ve been working on PR for Rochester Contemporary Art Center’s 6x6 fundraising exhibit.

This annual “small art” phenomenon calls for art from anyone and everyone: those well-known gallery-represented and upcoming artists, and well, everyone else. This year includes nearly 6,000 of us from around the world. Only after purchase is the artist’s name revealed. By retaining the anonymity of the artists, Rochester Contemporary makes no distinction, nor tries to define, who is an artist, what makes a creation ART, and what makes art valuable. Is it what speaks to us? Is it knowing that the creator is "famous?" Does it match the couch? ;)

I’ve spent a couple of hours online and in the gallery, looking closely at the truly mind-blowing variety, depth, and creativity displayed on those walls. 2-D, 3-D, unique choices of medium, political and sociological statements, serious, fun, outrageous, poignant, and not a duplication to be found.

Without a second thought, we put the tools of art making—crayons, markers, paint, paper and glue—into the hands of children as soon as they can grab an art-making utensil. (I guess I also have to include cameras, thanks to our smart phones.) We praise their art; we hang it on our refrigerator doors for public viewing, and we encourage this artistic productivity through the years. I myself am guilty of having portfolios of art and art projects from my now-grown children that I can’t bear to part with.

Over time, this participation in art, this expression of creativity that we barely separate from ourselves, begins to wane. And then, stops.

Why/how/when do we, or society, decide that the only people who should be making art are, in fact, “real” artists? And what makes a "real" artist? Someone with an art degree? Someone making money from their art? Someone who has x-number of artworks they’ve created? Someone whose artworks are praised by art writers or critics? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that we are doing ourselves, and our society, a disservice when we stop allowing ourselves to be artists.

Over the last few months, I approached numerous members of the media and the community, asking them to create an artwork to submit for 6x6. Almost without exception, the automatic response was, “But I’m not an artist!” I’ll bet that if I made the same request to elementary school kids, there would be no hesitation. How about middle-school kids? High school? College? When do we stop being artists?

And why?

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