Being a Serious Artist

When people ask you what you do, do you say, "I'm a professional artist," or do you say something more watered down like "I draw a lot?" Maybe you say something that identifies you by your day job, if you have one. It's all good.

It can be hard to admit that you are an artist in the age of technology, when artist is perceived as being somewhere on the same level as "loser." [Unless you can say you are a graphic artist, which implies you may have a real job.] So if you say you do art as a profession, you also want to be taken seriously, which implies that you therefore need to produce serious art.

What is serious art anyway? Does art need to be infused with obscure or even incomprehensible meaning to be considered serious art? I find that a lot of my professional artist friends, those who work in primarily 2-D mediums especially, and women especially, are afraid to produce work that is fun, whimsical, or humorous, as if it would make them less legitimate as an artist. It simply isn't true. 

Vertumnus, a portrait of Rudolf II, painted by Arcimboldo in 1590-1591.

Take this painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. A visual feast - literally - of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, it is hard to view without smiling. Arcimboldo produced pieces on religious subjects as well, but is remembered for his portraits done primarily in natural elements. His paintings hang in the Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery, among others. Not too shabby for works that depict people from the produce section of your local grocer.

Consider the works of Norman Rockwell, or Dr. Seuss. They, too, depicted subjects that were funny, whimsical, and imaginative conveyed with great artistic skill. Are you using your skills that way? If not, maybe take a stroll outside your artistic comfort zone.

It is hard to create new work that is different from that which you normally produce, and which people expect. However, stepping outside the work you traditionally do to create something significantly different presents a huge opportunity for personal and artistic growth. No one has to see it if you don't feel comfortable with that, but stretching yourself to do work that is foreign in concept or just plain difficult mentally can help you grow as a serious artist, even if it means growing a little less serious.