original artwork created by the writer

The Fear of Being Called an "Artist"

Hazel Morgan

In times of fear and isolation, it’s common for people to turn towards methods of self-expression in order to ease their worries. While this expression can vary greatly from person to person, one way many people are able to cope with stressful situations is through the creation of art. That art doesn’t need to be anything specific. Anything from doodles in the margins of a textbook to grand, week-long projects should be considered “artwork.” During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, many people turned towards these varying levels of self-expression to cope with the greater situation. Despite this great turn towards the artistic, however, most people are still reluctant to give themselves the label of “artist” or call what they create “artwork.”  


As an artist myself, I’ve always referred to the work I create as “artwork.” Regardless of the level of effort I’ve put into a piece, the reception it received, or how viewable it is to the public. This wasn’t something exclusive to me, either. In almost every art community I’ve been a part of, people have referred to almost anything they’ve created as “artwork.” So, imagine my surprise when I found out the first definition of “artwork” listed by Oxford dictionary was, “illustrations, photographs, or other nontextual material prepared for inclusion in a publication,” (“Oxford Languages and Google – English”). Although this definition may not seem extreme, it does carry one part that I feel needs to be cut; “for inclusion in a publication.” This definition is far to specific for how broadly the term “artwork” is used in artist communities and in our general society. 


When thinking of creating a piece of art, some people uninvolved in the art world may imagine a gorgeous, museum-worthy piece of media. However, a majority of what artists create and produce is far from that standard. In fact, in our modern era of technology, a lot of what artists share to social media and show around is simply doodles and small drawings. Large-scale pieces intended to earn revenue are rarely created. This doesn’t mean the art being created isn’t “real artwork,” however. Those small doodles are still loved and adored by the community, and many of artists gain recognition and even make a profit off of their casual social media posts. 

Artwork isn’t always necessarily shared online, either. Everyone has dabbled in some creative medium in one way or another. That creative expression not only deserves to be held in the same regard as professional artists, but also proves to be extremely beneficial to one’s well-being. To quote a study done for Frontiers in Psychology, “Creative growth was associated with a higher level of flourishing well-being,” (Tang, Min, et al). People as a whole need to feel comfortable to explore more creative outlets without the constant pressure to be at the same level as the professionals. 


People are afraid to call themselves “artists” or even pursue the arts because of how pretentious and professional the labels feel. An article written by Drew Kimble about the title of “artist” says, “True artists are people like Picasso, Clapton, Leibovitz, Lennon, Hemmingway, and Versace.  In comparison, we feel more like wannabe artists,” (Kimble). This feeling of inferiority can greatly hold people back from truly growing and developing as creatives. Having one’s artistic integrity tied to those unreasonable standards can greatly hold people back from discovering their hidden talents.


One way in which people can work to grow in confidence as artists is by critiquing the work of the greats. Through looking at famous artists through a critical lens or exposing oneself to their earlier pieces and/or their less “professional” looking ones, we can come to realize that even the amazing artists we see in museums and galleries had to start somewhere. All artists doodle small, crude drawings in the margins of their notebooks and all artists begin with the roughest of sketches. 


In years before the prevalence of social media, I understand why the previously stated definition of artwork may have been at least somewhat appropriate. Years ago, the only way to really spread your creations and show off your talents was to create massive, gorgeous pieces of art and have them professionally published and shown in galleries. It wasn’t very common for artists to take their small collections of half-finished art and gain a following from them. It’s understandable for the current definition of artwork to be relevant for those older artists, but the modern art community is much more open and freelance than that.


Nowadays, it’s uncommon for any professional artists to have their work professionally published or shown in a gallery. A majority of artists simply share their works through websites such as Instagram or Twitter. Some artists even keep all of their work locked in something like a Discord server for their fans to join. Having that artwork locked in a digital medium for just close friends to enjoy doesn’t devalue the artwork. Many people draw entirely for themselves, keeping the work they produce locked inside sketchbooks and on slips of notebook paper. Large artistic publications don’t even hold a fraction of all the artwork being produced on a daily basis, and whether or not a piece of art.


Although some may argue that posting artwork to social media could be considered “publishing” artwork, the definition definitely implies a much more professional form of publication. It’s clear that the definition written above has a very clear expectation of what artwork really is, and that expectation is far beyond the current standard in art communities. A majority of artists nowadays take a much more casual approach to creating artwork, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. In fact, the more casual approach should be encouraged, as it allows artists to create what they want to when they want to. This casual approach helps encourage artists to continue to grow without excess pressure that could lead to burnout. It also allows for self-exploration and expression without fear of rejection, as shown in an article written for The Studio Director that states, “Art therapy activities can help children (and adults) cope with their circumstances, both past and present,” (“The Importance of Art in Society and How It Helps Us Flourish”). Using artwork as a means of coping and expressing one’s emotions is one of the most therapeutic experiences imaginable. Having that sort of escape, especially during an event as isolating as the recent pandemic, can be absolutely essential to keep one’s mind in check. 


Along with the issue of publication, the definition should also be expanded to account for new forms of artistic expression. With the rapid growth of technology, the many ways for people to create “artwork” has grown. Animation, video games, and even music are all forms of artwork. They all involve a creator expressing their beliefs and emotions through an artistic outlet. It’s also strange that the definition specifies that artwork only consists of “nontextual material.” Any form of artistic self-expression should be included in the definition of artwork. That self-expression should expand to other mediums such as poetry, creative literature, and music. That exclusion of text in artwork could also possibly cut out some visual art forms such as comic creation or word art. Although they’re a little less traditional, they still deserve to be recognized as artwork just like the rest of what artists produce. It also excludes forms of media that are commonly considered artwork such as poetry. Jazlynn Stone writes, “I would like to say yes, poetry is a form of art. It is complex to the mind yet simple to the eye,” (Stone). Although it’s often considered a form of art, the current definition of artwork explicitly excludes poetry. The current definition of artwork feels incredibly stuck in the past in terms of what is deemed to be “artwork.” 


Overall, the current definition of “artwork” is incredibly limiting and doesn’t account for the pieces of art created by everyday people. The art community has been growing rapidly with the introduction of social media and technological advances, and the definition of “artwork” needs to be adjusted to keep up with that growth. It must be expanded to not only include other forms of artistic expression, but also to allow people to feel more comfortable giving themselves the label of “artist.” People must feel more comfortable pursuing their artistic dreams without the pressure of grand success.  


Works Cited

The Importance of Art in Society and How It Helps Us Flourish.” The Studio Director, 10 Mar. 2021, 

Kimble, Drew. “Are You Afraid to Be an Artist?” Skinny Artist. 

Oxford Languages and Google - English.” Oxford Languages

Stone, Jazlynn. “Poetry Is a Form of Art and Expression.” The Journal Rewired

Tang, Min, et al. “Creativity as a Means to Well-Being in Times of COVID-19 Pandemic: Results of a Cross-Cultural Study.” Frontiers, Frontiers.

Prior to the pandemic, Hazel Morgan never felt comfortable with her artwork. She didn’t feel like she could compare to the incredible artists featured in galleries nor the gorgeously rendered pieces of art filling her social media. After months of self-reflection, however, she realized one important thing–she didn’t need to compare herself to those artists.

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