"Artist or Not?" John P. Lasater, IV

"Sulking Muse". 18x24, Oil

Have you decided you are an “Artist”? For this, I salute you. It’s a big step. Your decision took courage. You had to come to a place of believing in your merit and individuality. You also had to work hard.

Hold on to that decision. It will be threatened time and again; internally, by your personal doubts and failures, and externally, by competitve outside forces. There are those at the top of the heap that won't agree with your assessment. 

Have you ever heard it said: “Not everyone who wants to, can truly become an artist”? It’s a thought worth considering because in any other field, professionals have to earn their titles. Nevertheless, the path to earning those professional titles is more concrete than it is for an artist. Artistry isn’t surgery. There may be three different methods to amputate a leg, but one of those is most likely the best way. Can you ever say that one approach to painting a certain subject is the best way? Most of us would agree it’s is a purely personal decision. Perhaps you could get a majority of artists to agree that a certain piece of art was handled poorly, but ask the same group of artists to agree on what way it should have been handled, and you’ll get a variety of different responses.

I believe artists need to be an inclusive group. My reason is twofold. Firstly, because there was probably a time in each of our careers when someone at the top would have judged us unworthy. Secondly, and for selfish reasons, because I’ve found the savviest buyers were the ones who tried artistry themselves. They loved the creative spirit SO much, they were compelled to see if they might have what it takes. Would they have even dared to try if they sensed a spirit of egotism? They experience enough self-doubt for us to be adding fuel to the fire.

Conversely, I believe that humility has an important place in artistry. Humility dictates that we forever consider ourselves students. Being realistic about your skills is an important key to progress.

It’s worth contemplating that we are part of an addictive, overly-positive social community. Post any painting on social media and you’ll get all the encouragement you need for a week. This fills your emotional tank, and when it’s low you repeat. This cycle can become a whirlpool that sucks you into oblivion if you don’t take a reality pill once in a while.

The best motto I can suggest is this: Keep on working and growing till your final breath. History will decide if any of us deserved the title of Artist.

—John P. Lasater IV is an artist living in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He decided he was an artist about 14 years ago, and no one could tell him otherwise. His honors include top awards in plein air events and other exhibitions, national demonstrations and speaking engagements, and feature articles in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. For a list of his upcoming workshops, visit his website.