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Becoming an "Artist"

By John C. Reiger

Just when does one become "an Artist?" Is it when your friends and family start calling you one? Or perhaps when you sell that first piece of art? Maybe it's in grade school when a teacher notices that your artistic abilities are ahead of the others. But what about the first time you start thinking of yourself as an "an Artist?" That's a big step. Before that you were just a doodler, or a whittler, or just playing around. Now you are one of "Them." A genuine member of that disturbing class of social misfits. Or not. Maybe you just paint pretty pictures, not rocking anyone's boat. But somewhere along the line you've become and artist, however you define the role.

For me it was when I went to renew my drivers license. For the first time I put down "potter" for my occupation. Prior to the point I'd been a soldier, a student, or a social worker. All very normal identifications, but this was different. I was now officially a potter (a kind of artist), at least as far as the Department of Motor Vehicles was concerned, and they are a government agency. Why that mattered to me is one of those things only a shrink could figure out, but it really did matter to me. It was a big deal.

When I was a pottery student I was still just a student. I'd met a few real potters and I can remember thinking, "Gee will I ever be that good?" If I could just get to that stage, I'd really be a potter. One was the sister of a famous potter. I don't think she was a professional potter - making a living from her pots - but they were very good. Inspirational in fact. Another was a guy at a craft fair who was clearly making a living from his pots, or at least trying to. I ran into him many, many years later and was astonished to see that either his pots had gotten worse or mine had gotten much better. I preferred to go with the second option.

By the time this particular driver's license renewal came along I'd actually been a potter for all intents and purposed for at least a couple of years. Throwing and selling pots was how I supported myself and my family. It wasn't very lucrative. I actually qualified for Food Stamps at one point. I wasn't giving much thought to what I called myself. I was just trying to get by, making the best pots I could and learning the ways of selling them, which was a whole new skill to be mastered. But now the DMV needed me to label myself, so "potter" it was, and still is. Thank you DMV for officially making me a potter, at least in my own mind.

Now, what about you? When did you become an artist?

In fifth grade I created a report on birds. I chose birds because they were so colorful that I could really enjoy making pictures of all the birds. I first spent a couple weeks making drawings of the birds. Then, I actually wrote about each bird in the pictures. Clearly the highlight of the report were all the images of birds. I can look back on it and see me becoming an artist at that point in time.
Sandy Feder

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