The Problem with Labels

Eckhart Tolle says, “Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life.”

For the sake of this blog I have labeled myself an artist. But I could just as well call myself a cook, or a gardener or any number of other creative endeavors in which I engage. When cooking, I am a cook, when gardening, I am a gardener. When painting, I am an artist.

Contrary to the impression you may have gotten in my last post, where I talked about the benefits of being a quitter, I am not advocating you be a dilettante, although I’m pretty sure that is what I am. I admire those who with a single powerful focus master their chosen field, or medium. I enjoy the fruits of their excellence. However, I am not one of those people as I suspect many of us are not. I have experimented with many roles in my life and in art with many mediums. I have been daughter, sister, wife, lover, student, teacher, friend and loner. I have experimented with clay, fabric, paper, paint, colored pencil and digital mediums in my art. So what should I call myself? new label


Am I a Ceramist and nothing else, or a Collage Artist? But then I discovered colored pencil and so then I must be a Colored Pencil Artist. Currently I am enamored of digital art…Each of my experiences in life and each of these mediums have taught me a great deal. So my question is at what point are we to stop playing and exploring and trying new things?


I realize this lack of commitment does not fit well in our focused product driven society but I would like to propose there are more people like me in this world than we know whose voices are silenced .

So you go to a social gathering and are asked “what do you do?” I immediately resent this question and am inclined to answer, “I go to parties and answer stupid questions”,

but mostly I just don’t go anywhere.

It would be easy to assume I resent the question because I have not found success in a chosen field, but I suspect success breeds its own resentments. Because you are then put in a box defined by your success. Just ask famous movie stars or musicians, who dare to assert their right to paint pictures or write poetry, or pursue any other interest outside of what we expect them to be. I feel one reason behind a fear of success is the fear of being trapped. Success, as it is defined in our society can kill the spirit, and deep down we all know this to be true.

The word Dilettante has a negative connotation, but it was not always so. It used to be associated with the pursuit of knowledge simply for the beauty of knowledge, not for what it may earn. In fact the root of the word Dilettante comes from the Latin ‘to delight’. And it is with this perspective that those of us, who are Masters of None, can accept the spirit of curiosity and playful discovery to be a good and wonderful thing!


word source

Always be a beginner…

“If the Angel deigns to come, it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears but by your humble resolve to be always beginning: to be a beginner.”     RILKE

I am a Quitter and therefore always a Beginner.  I’ve taken precisely three art classes in my life and have promptly quit all three. The first was in the 7th grade.  I was only 13 at the time; sure I was no artist, but still wanting to do something artistic and creative.  The 1st week was kindergarten style projects; potato printing and such.  My highly sophisticated 13 old self was put off by what I saw as laziness on the part of the teacher.  Finally in the 2nd week, we were given a real assignment.  We were shown how to draw mountains and a river receding into the distance.  I think we used water colors.  The instructor asked us to basically duplicate her drawing, but to be creative!  Mine came back the next day with a near failing grade of ‘D’.  I became righteously angry and immediately transferred out of the class.

My second stab at an art class was at a community college, also a dismal failure.    On the very 1st day, the instructor said it was his goal to get a third of the class to drop out in one week.  Apparently he was bent out of shape at the class size and the overbooking of classes by the administration.  (I should have dropped out on the first day).  He ran the class like a drill sergeant.  I thought it was a beginning art class, but he threw advanced perspective concepts and assignments at us the very first week, until one day during a timed drawing exercise I realized I had no clue what the hell he was talking about.  I started to cry and quit that week along with about a third of the class. Mission accomplished Mr. Art Instructor!

My 3rd attempt was about 25 years later.  I had been experimenting with colored pencils on my own and thought to take an informal evening art class.  I had always drawn on black paper as I loved the way it created a ground that made the colors pop.  But in the very first class the instructor informed me that using black paper was cheating.  I asked why, did not get a satisfactory answer and so quit.

By now you are saying I’m a big fat quitter and you are right.  However, I don’t buy shoes that don’t fit.  Just because someone tells you they should fit does not mean they actually do.  Besides, I like to go barefoot.   i-quit

I am a self-taught artist and have come to terms with the limitations AND with the opportunities that brings. What I enjoy most about art is the process of discovery, and although classes would hone my technical skills, it would at the same time kill the spirit of exploration and the delight of discovery that I cherish.

For those of you like me who resent the yoke of convention, or who are trying to regain the childlike spirit of play in their art, I invite you to forget the training, put down the books, silence the critical voices within and without and simply find out what’s next!