What It Means to Be an Artist

Being An Artist: Is it Just About Mastering Art Techniques, or Something More?

What does it mean to be an artist? I know I don’t have to explain it to all of you; but when I am in situations with people who aren’t as passionate about art, I find myself trying to explain and justify my commitment — to painting, drawing, sculpture and all the art techniques that go along with them.

Seeing John Phillip Osborne at his canvas reminds me of all the things I think of and value as an artist. Some of those are art techniques, but that is not all I value.
Seeing John Phillip Osborne at his canvas reminds me of all the things I think of and value as an artist — art techniques, yes, but other things, too.

I mean, I relate to everything — history, pop culture and even my own emotions and relationships — through art. It just feels like a natural part of me. It is the language that I want to speak and communicate with.

That’s why when I think of what it means to be a painter, this picture comes to my mind: An artist, surrounded by his or her painting studies, sketches and works in progress, seemingly lost in the work that is springing up before his or her very eyes.

I love the fact that the painting in the photo above, a work by John Phillip Osborne, is so large and truly dominant. I imagine if I was sitting where the artist is, the painting on the easel would be all I could see, and all I could think about. That is how consuming and intense the artistic process can be.

Letting Inspiration Strike

There is a calmness and matter-of-factness to the feel of the photo of John Phillip Osborne. The artist isn’t puffed up and putting on airs. He doesn’t even look like he’s aware his photo is being taken. He’s lost in the work, and just in the moment, content to work and continue the conversation that is going on between him and his painting.

That kind of devotion and focus is truly what makes an artist. That’s what I remind myself when I’m sitting with friends or family trying to figure out how to convey my passion for painting and art in general to others.

But no matter how much I might struggle with how to tell other people about my love for art, my devotion to it has never waned. I can say the same of many of the artists I know who leave their studios for painting outdoors.

Plein air is the way to invigorate your painting process so that when you come back to the studio, you bring all that inspiration with you. Ian Roberts is an artist-instructor who teaches you how to do just that in his DVD, Plein Air: Landscape Painting Techniques for Success.

You will find out how to NOT get overwhelmed by your environment, choose and crop a powerful landscape composition, paint to ensnare the viewer’s eye, and more. Below is a preview trailer for Ian Roberts’ video workshop. Enjoy!

P.S. What comes to mind when you think of an artist or your art practice? Is it just art techniques or something altogether different? I’d love to hear, so leave a comment and let me know!

I’d love to hear, so leave a comment and let me know!





Related Posts:


Artist Daily Blog
Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

49 thoughts on “What It Means to Be an Artist

  1. I really like this article and will forward it to non-artist friends. The other day I wanted to leave a comment to your post about female artists (but had technical difficulties). You asked us to let you know our favorite female artists – one of my favorites is Camille Claudet, sculptor, worked with Rodin.
    -Simonne Roy

  2. The book I wrote called “Out of My Mind, life lessons as an oil painter” was inspired by John and others who are my colleagues. For those who don’t know what it is like to be lost in time with creativity, the actual doing of something from nothing and making it possible, I feel a sense of loss for them. The creative mind needs nurturing of course, the book tells how so, but the self starter can maintain the highest level of a creative contributor.
    Karen Weihs, http://www.karenweihs.com

  3. I believe that artists are people who have the courage to express what is in their soul. We all see the world through a different lens and this creates the diversity of opinion, skill, medium and expression that we continually observe. Artists of all types embrace the freedom to experiment, interpret and lay bare the feelings and observations of life that exists around and inside them. Through out history their view has not always been encouraged or accepted but their expression has defined and recorded the culture of the period in which they lived. For this the world should be grateful as it has left a trail of beauty and wonderment for us to chat about for centuries to come.

  4. To me, being an artist is really “seeing” ALL things, people, places around you, from the most simple as a blade of grass with beautiful purple wheat colors blended with browns, or a magnificent scene, which I just painted: A woman in a victorian white dress, holding a lace parasol, standing on a terrace in the rose colored early evening sky —- alone with her thoughts, from a high place above the lake….. I love it…… and can’t keep up with the ideas and beauty that keeps hitting me in the face! Sometimes surprisingly, and other times so softly and gently….. to capture these on paper is divine….but never as perfect as the Creator of all things….. Joy from Sweden

  5. The only odd thing about the picture you post : where are the paints?
    Don’t feel you have to justify your passion to anyone–if it’s true and important, that’s enough. If you’re comfortable with your choice(s)–that’s what counts.

  6. As illustrated in the picture, I become completely enthralled in my work. To me, being a passionate artist is having no sense of time. When I begin a painting or drawing, I completely lose track of time. I love the feeling that at that very moment, nothing else matters.


  7. Courtney your article expressed the wonderful experience of how an artist sees the world he is surrounded with and how he can express his feeling for it and life itself through the medium he uses. I think that this creative talent is a very special gift one can possess and able to share his creations with others. Creating a painting is like starting on a journey with colors till, when you can stand back, look at the painting and you’ll know that you finished the journey.

  8. I love this photo of John Phillip Osbourne…it shows that one can paint a good painting while sitting! I have read so many comments by “big name artists”, that say,
    “No one ever painted a good painting sitting down”. That is so hurtful to those of us who have painted all our lives standing but now have arthritis (or some other physical problems) and have to sit while painting. I often wonder if those people have ever had to endure the paint that others of us experience and still paint and work hard through the pain. Interesting.

  9. Courtney,
    This article is exactly who I am. All my world is my pastel painging, the process, the pictures and the people I talk to must understand I communicate through my art. My students know well how we talk and it’s all about them and their art also. Life is great isn’t it?
    Tour faithful reader,


  10. Courtney…Thank you for putting your feelings down so elequently. There are many time when I find myself trying to tell people how I feel about art, the process of creating art and sometimes it can be difficult. I was recently interviewed for an article to be in a local newpaper in conjunction with a show I was doing. It is quite easy to talk about what you love, but sometimes hard to answer questions. sometimes words just don’t seem enough.
    I will pass this article on.


  11. “He doesn’t even look like he’s aware his photo is being taken. He’s lost in the work, and just in the moment, content to work and continue the conversation that is going on between him and his painting.”

    Query: Is that in fact a photo, or a photo-realistic painting within a painting:)

  12. Courtney,

    Imagine my delight to come across this article and to see John seated at his easel. Your words are spot on about the photograph. Having known John for many years and seeing him work at his easel, what is seen in the photo above is exactly how John works. He becomes enveloped in his painting and his focus is extraordinary. He is humble, sincere and truthful before his canvas and has no pretenses or false airs. His dedication to his work and his artistic vision is unwavering.

    Someone in the comments thread had asked where John’s paints were. They are in fact located at the bottom of the painting. If you look between the legs of the stool where John is seated you can catch a glimpse of his palette.

    Thank you so much Courtney for this wonderful post!! I always enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to reading your future posts.

    Best wishes to you!

  13. I absolutely love this. This is passion and concentration at its highest. I find that when I paint I am so overwhelmed that I feel like I’m having a love affair with my creativity. The color of the paints, the odor of the paints, the sensuality of the texture, the sound of the brush lapping the canvas, the results that come out of what is being painted. I also find that I lose track of time. I could paint for six hours or more and find that it’s not enough time. I also know that when I paint, it is therapy for me and I don’t feel any aches or pains in my body!

  14. I totally agree with what you wrote about what it is to be a artist, i totaly feel it when i really get into it when i can leave all els behind,
    doesn’t always happen but it’s good when it does sometimes it’s with music other times just the sounds of birds outside, (i am lucky to live in a place where it feels like iam in a tree house as we are surrounded by trees) i prefer animals and space around me oppose to lots of houses and people even though our house can be a very busy one but art has always been with me, and i have come to a time in my life i can throw myself into it deeper than before,the word itself to me as short as it is has always been a big word as i feel it would be a privilege to be called a artist and don’t feel ive earned the title so will push on to justify it, i love art, colour,and the texture of paint and the look of a art work space truely a treasure trove for me Carla

  15. When I think of an artist I think of someone with a vision for a painting or sculpture or song ar what ever their art may be and then to have the talent and skill and passion for that vision to make it happen. To build it or paint it or write it or perform it.

  16. PASSION… thats what I think of and thats what I feel.. a passion for lines, colors – a drunkeness of creativity splurging out from every pore and suddenly I sometimes loose it all, and it becomes a dark hole. I go through a roller coaster ride of emotions and feelings while trying to create, and it takes up all my energy and I must keep working almost non stop till its finished. .. and then I breathe again till my next inspiration.

  17. Hello madam,
    For almost year I ve had your emails daily !
    It makes me want ro paint more, looking forward to your nice and inspiring emails each day.
    I’m from the Philippines, where we have a lot of homegrown talents like Fernando amorsolo, malang, Ben cabrera, Federico Alcuaz, Anita magsaysay ho, and a lot . They have incomparable works.
    I just want to thank you ms Courtney for sharing your blessings thru your talent.. I guess you got have not only a heart , but a
    soul to really be passionate about painting!

    Always with a gratefulheart,
    Mila dela fuente

  18. Hello madam,
    For almost year I ve had your emails daily !
    It makes me want ro paint more, looking forward to your nice and inspiring emails each day.
    I’m from the Philippines, where we have a lot of homegrown talents like Fernando amorsolo, malang, Ben cabrera, Federico Alcuaz, Anita magsaysay ho, and a lot . They have incomparable works.
    I just want to thank you ms Courtney for sharing your blessings thru your talent.. I guess you got have not only a heart , but a
    soul to really be passionate about painting!

    Always with a gratefulheart,
    Mila dela fuente

  19. Whether the rest of mankind ever sees any value in my work, I will always know that my time was well spent when I think of the little moments when I amazed myself. Somehow in spite of busy or difficult times in my life I’ve been able to see some small degree of progress. The artist’s picture above makes me think of times when I have worked with other artists and the interlude starts with much chatter and activity and soon you could hear a pin drop as each artist communicates only with their own creation. Haven’t we been blessed to have enjoyed this inner calm. Sometimes you get lucky and the painting paints itself! If you,ve never seen a painting in a museum that wowed you so much that it nearly brings tears to your eyes, then you’ve missed a lot!!

  20. I really enjoyed this article, as it brought to the fore how intimate the creative process is. The protograph, in my opinion, is akin to two oblivious lovers caught up in each other’s embrace without a care in the world. All the while some curious onlooker stealthily snaps a shot of the moment as a keepsake. The two unwitting amorists continue unaware as they gaze at each other longingly. I know, I know…it’s a little syrupy, but I’m a hopeless romantic and art always takes me there.

  21. Please help us to educate the public. We came across unmarked oil painting copies which were embellished to look like it is an original and may be being sold as originals or so…. Can you please send me a paragraph that I can put onto our website to help to educate the public? thank you. R

  22. This is something we, as artists, can relate to. Being surrounded by art in all its forms is both inspiring and reassuring that we are in the right place – doing what we love to do. I see my workshop ( studio ) as my sanctuary. It is my home base from which I tap into energy that recharges my power. There is a sense of connection with the masters and a driving forward into the future when I am into the groove in my work – I know most of you can understand this feeling, alone in tune, working…. you are transported out or off this world but still connected to it all…..

    Great article Courtney- I digg it.

  23. I would like that some day ,in the future, I could read Artists Magazine in spanish .
    I usually read it in the the web- , and I like it very much.
    I don’t speak English very well , and I’m allways afraid, sometió es, I’m loosing the real meaning of some word ,or article in your magazine. I allways make a real effort to read and understand the texts in each articles, and e-free magazines.
    Sorry for my mistases , is a little dificult expressing myself , yet.
    Please, try to introduce translating-Way in the web magazine !!!
    Thank you , a lot

  24. What do i tell friends and relatives? To those who aren’t my adult children or other artist friends……almost nothing. Especially relatives…they don’t get it, have an interest in, or understanding. There seems to be those who absorb art/art related topics (museum, artwork, art history, going to galleries) and there are those who don’t. How you present yourself is one of two people because we seem to live in two different worlds.

  25. Being a artist means wondering how I would paint everything I see. Out for a walk, riding in the car, sitting at a car show. How would I paint that? Wow look at those clouds, could I paint them that way. That is how I look at things now that I am a artist. John

  26. Thank you for a great article. I can relate to this working in my studio on large paintings time flys by. Art transcends one into a higher plane of meditation.

  27. Courtney, I have always liked the term or expression, “of the painter’s hand.” It (for me) expresses creation. Looking at Mr. Osborne, in the photo above, imagin the world as a blank canvas, without out form until an artist frames his thoughts seen expressed through his or her brush.

    The clouds form, drop rain then are blown away by an unseen force. The waves move, abuntant with life; all the while we see a still painting.

    For me as an artist, I create life. Some people see it right away, others? Not, if ever.

  28. Thank you so much for validating my feelings. I recently had someone (who is hired to help me find employment) refer to my art as a hobby. It was very hurtful, I am an educated artist who has been praised by college instructors and the public. Sadly have been unable to complete my degree because of family care-giving. I am going to share this on my Facebook page.
    Kelly West

  29. Courtney, thank you for helping me to validate my artistic temperament. The fiber that runs through us is what we share – a passion, a desire/need to make it tangible. Our talents vary, but we all possess a deeper sensibility, a connection to things around us.

    What is not fair is being introduced to my inner artist at 62. I’m sad to think how late I came to it, and how little time I have to develop. When I work (clay) I feel like a child in discovery.

    Personally, I think God is “choosing to share with us” a tiny bit of His awesomeness. If WE can love our creations (extension of ourselves), how can God feel any different?

  30. When you are painting, you are in the state of meditation. Your mind gets completely detached from the daily humdrum. You are in the different time & space zone.

  31. I’ve been going through a rough patch lately and painting/drawing etc have been a
    struggle. I need to do it though, so, as small, or poorly done, i try to do something
    evert day….even if it’s just tweaking an old one.
    My biggest inspiration is a woman named Laurie Lipton. How much time she puts
    into her work….she doesn’t even know. She does very large pencil/charcoal on
    paper. They are out of this world….

  32. For those with a short attention span . . . the palette is on a small table directly in
    front of Mr. Osborne .
    Loved the post as well as the heartfelt comments .

  33. Hi Courtney,

    I just wanted to agree with everything that Diana Gibson wrote. I also wanted to add that the photo was taken at Ridgewood Art Institute where John does his teaching and paints many of his larger works. The photo was taken by Murray Smith while John was at work. Murray is an excellent painter and has done allot
    to promote Ridgewood Art Institute. The two artist came together at a perfect
    moment to create the picture.

    I always enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work for artist everywhere.

    Carl Holst

  34. Hi Courtney,
    Reading your article gives me goosebumps because this is how I feel about my love for art exactly, the more I do and learn the stronger this “bond” is as if it was an entity, itself. I really get this photo of the painter engrossed in his work, when you are in the zone there is nothing but a canvas, paint and your next brush stroke on your mind.
    Some family members and friends may understand the devotion and focus we feel as artists, but more often they won’t and thats OK. It doesn’t change what we do, and how we feel about doing what we love. Thank you for such a well written article,
    Lucy Tyson

  35. It’s hard to tell people of what it really means to be an artist. Artists have this extraordinary kind of commitment when it comes to creating art, where some people don’t understand why we spend time drawing for hours instead of doing something more productive. Being an artist doesn’t mean being weird, they just look at things in a very different angle. Moreover, art is a matter of appreciation of life.

    Great article though.