dot 24: real/artist


Sometimes I think I’m not a real artist.

– Marlene Dumas –

I clearly remember the first time I heard these words. Thinking I had misinterpreted what I had just heard, I ended up re-watching an hour of Marlene Dumas’s DVD then showing at her solo exhibition Intimate Relations held at IZIKO (Cape Town) in 2008. For a very long time thereafter I still doubted what I had heard Marlene Dumas say.

Having had the opportunity to briefly visit an artist collective yesterday, I was once again plagued by the idea of whether I really was an artist as I walked through various studios filled with impressive artworks in progress. I found myself wondering whether these artists ever doubted themselves; pondering as to whether they in fact felt like real artists? In my experience it is not something that is particularly voiced, which is why Marlene Dumas’s statement is both liberating and horrific at the same time. I subsequently reminded myself that if Dumas could doubt herself at her level of experience, then perhaps my own self-doubt wasn’t so misplaced.

I am currently reading a book entitled Creative Block by the author (and artist) Danielle Krysa. Although the main objective of the book is to help other artists ‘get unstuck’ and ‘discover new ideas’, I have been more intrigued with another question that Krysa has put to the 50 artists she has interviewed: ‘When did you feel like an artist?‘ By default, asking this question implies that feelings of authenticity are neither instantaneous nor a given for many artists. Having said that, some answers suggest that there are those who have known and desired nothing other than to be an artist from a very tender age. For others, the feelings of being an artist mainly surface when they experience one of the following:

  • The act of creating: the happiness, arousal and freedom of choice connected to it
  • Belief / affirmation / validation of the artwork by someone else
  • Acceptance of work for exhibitions / Purchases from buyers & collectors
  • The cognitive decision to pursue art as a career

For me, all of the above can be summarized in the word validation.

I would like to share one artist’s response in particular. Peregrine Honig is a painter, sculptor and installation artist (USA). When asked by Krysa whether she could recall the first time she felt like an artist, Honig replies:

I remember drawing in the sun on my mother’s apartment porch when I was four. My hand was cooperating with my mind. A Belgian man and his girlfriend were staying downstairs. He was smoking near me. He looked at what I was drawing and told me I was too good to draw on both sides of a sheet of paper. The memory of this is fresh: the airborne dust, the smell of tobacco, the texture of the wood under my paper. I had never been praised before in the form of advice.

The praise Honig was privileged to receive in this way is the validation that still stays with her as she recalls its sensory experience. It is the advice of feeling like an real artist.

Sorting ceramic fragments in the Karoo
Sorting ceramic fragments in the Karoo / feeling like a real artist
  • Danielle Krysa:
  • Danielle Krysa Creative Block (2014) Chronicle Books, California ISBN: 978-1-4521-1888-8

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