Well, it appears you’re thinking about the question. This is a good start.
But… do you know how to define what an Artist is? If it is anything at all – other than an inquisitive, expressive human with some bug up their ass!
Of course, how you answer that question of how will determine whether or not you can then define yourself according to your own definition. (So if you define ‘an artist’ as someone who just happens to have your qualities then – Bingo – you are self-anointed, and appointed, as an Artist.) But the next question is: are you an artist as in a Sunday painter sort (hardly a deprecating term), like a recreational sort, or as in a committed careerist? (This is in part a process versus product query.)
If the latter, do not under-rate your aspirations to be an artist here because they count, but do consider them, contextualize them. Is your end-game fame? (Hmmm.) Is it a pursuit of some hypothesized truth or elusive clue to the meaning of life? (Hopefully it is.) Or is it just how you really get your rocks off? (This is a very fine reason. But it may not mean you want to throw yourself into the street to run with the bulls. (A reference to a ritual in Pamplona Spain where six bulls chase a screaming mob of tourists through town, which does relate to trying to make it in the art world. People get gored.)) So examine your motivations.
To me, art is a sequence of questions that I seek to answer through my artistic practice. I am more or less hounded by these questions, as I relate in my book, Her Argument, because each of my answers yields another question. This project has begun to seem perpetual, unstoppable – like a crystalline structure that keeps growing, extending, extruding into the future. The questions can be ontological or mundane. Can I possibly capture the absurdity of existence in this photo-collage? What can I do with this Cadmium Orange splat I just flung onto my canvas? But here I divagate into considering the role of wordsmith as artist… If I keep toying with words and rubberizing them and tossing them in the air to see what pattern they will make while falling, can I emerge with new meaning? To me, art is a search. Or rather, searching.
Do you too think about existential questions a lot? Great, maybe you are an artist (or a philosopher or a scientist, which returns us to a sort of outlier individual, which feels like what an artist is). Oh wait, then a scientist can be an artist? Science requires creativity, so of course, but the impetus is different and the products too are typically different. However, the 19th century idea that Art meant paintings of puffy naked ladies on mythical shores, or busts of long dead male politicians (most likely never real leaders but rather toadies to them…) has long ago bit the dust. The early twentieth century, disillusioned by world wars, demolished the idea that Art had to be beautiful or heroic or even Ideal. The late twentieth century hacked away at even the need for material, as art grew increasingly conceptual. But then again, Marcel Duchamp prefigured that when he ditched ‘retinal’ art for that which served the mind and went off to play chess for the rest of his life, which to him was as compelling or valuable as making art.
“The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. … I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” – Marcel Duchamp
But back to our question. If you wake up at the blackest hour of night, if the shrouds of Morpheus are suddenly rent by a wild flash and before your eyes burns a single phrase: ‘There is no paramount truth!’ And afterward a secondary flash: ‘Except man’s search for it.’ And you scribble it down illegibly on a pad by your bed and in the morning ponder what you can do with that phrase, and then set about doing something, anything with it… well, then you might think that you’re an artist.
In my case, given that I have a long trajectory of tripping through multiple media and genres, I am forever trying to sort out what sort of artist I am or whether I am just some sort of visual thinker or street philosopher or WTF, None of the Above…But why do I need to label myself? (Well of course, for gainful employment. Yes, what we do for a living does not define us, our creative acts define us, but how sweet to have these acts actualize as cash!) The reason I know I am an artist is that I can’t help making art or thinking about it; that I am fairly obsessed by it.
Of course making a career of art is a financial gambit, not just a creative one. How you attract attention/collectors/fanbase is part of the process, and once you get that, keeping it is as well. Because whatever artsy-fartsy notions you have about being an artist, you have to become a producer, with a product. And you have to keep churning it out. And then of course you need to become a brand. I got in trouble in art school because I kept flipping styles. My portfolio review team asked why I couldn’t just stick with one. I didn’t have an answer that wouldn’t sound peremptory. And I still don’t. Fuck it, that’s just me. And g-d it that’s just fine in today’s market. Born too early, I guess. But that’s all okay, if I just make it part of my brand, right?
Anyhow, go for it. It’s a tough life but it’s an exhilarating one.