November 3, 2011

what's in a name?

Last night I sat at a pottery wheel and spun some clay.  I picked up tools and dug in pots to make designs.  I drew.  I cut.  I smoothed out seams with fingers.  I pulled a handle and fastened it to make a mug, a pitcher.  I used the pictures in my head and in my sketchbook.

I am an amateur, unprofessional, a hobbyist.  I am a mother with a BA in English and a TESL minor, raising children, and throwing pots for fun.  I pay for the privilege of instruction.  I sit under people who earn (at least part of) their living from their art.  Any dreams I have of making pottery "for a living" are very faint indeed, dimmed by my very real and present duties of cooking and cleaning and loving, and pulled out only on weekend retreats.

My classmates, fellow hopefuls who have tried their hands at this for years, complimented everything I did last night, ooh-ing and ahh-ing with abandon.

Feeling dishonest with my "thank-you's", my discomfort reached a tipping point when one of them spied my sketchbook left open, full of chicken scratch, attempts to capture beauty with a pen to help my memory.  More exclamations, and then,

"Are you an artist?"

I thought how I should answer.  "I am a mom," I said.  "I have an English major and I like to make pottery - a lot.  Does that  make me an artist?"

She looked back in my book.  "You're an artist."  Her voice was firm, authoritative from her decades of teaching school.

What's in a name?  What separates the amateur from the artist?  As much as I'd like to believe her, and as much as I appreciate the encouragement, I think she's wrong.  The admiration of amateurs does not determine art, but the acceptance of those who have already gained acceptance from those who have already gained acceptance from .... the public.  Hmmm.  Perhaps I have created a circular argument.

Either that or my brain is just limp with listening to Nice playing with Lil' Snip, talking nonstop in that piercing voice reserved for the hard-of-hearing, foreigners, and small children.

But feel free to point me in the right direction, someone - what is  the criteria for defining art?

(I'll come back in an hour; my brain will be more receptive when they're all enjoying "Quiet Time" ...!)

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