Are You an Artist?
Island Voices

Are You an Artist?

By Suzanna Leigh

“Are you an ARTIST, or just a hobbyist?” That question always makes me feel like dirt. What do I have to do to be a “real artist?” Spend 40 hours a week in my studio? Produce 50 new paintings a year? Make my living with my creations? I assume the asker means, do I make my living as an artist. Do I pay my rent with art sales.

On the other hand, I flinch when some one says, “I’m an ARTIST!” As though that gives them rights us ordinary people don’t have. Or perhaps they are trying to convince themselves?

All of this is just baloney, as far as I’m concerned. I am an artist, and none of the above applies. I sell very few paintings. I don’t pay my rent or buy groceries with money from my sales. Instead, I donate my profits to support things I care about. I don’t even paint every day. I don’t care if people think I am an artist.

And yet, art is my life. It’s just not my livelihood. Art forms and informs my life. Painting is a life skill. Marketing paintings is a whole ‘nother skill and mindset, but seeing what to paint, whether it is in the world outside me or within my mind, is what makes me an artist. And it goes beyond that.

Painting what I see, sketching, develops my eye and my mind. It trains me to see things as they are, not as I want them to be, or as someone else says they are, to get beyond preconceived ideas of how things should be. When I sketch trees, for example, I see that every tree is an individual, even as the tree shows the essential characteristics of its species. And so it is with people. Nations have a character, religions have a character, even generations have a character, but within those broad categories, individuals vary widely. That’s where the aliveness comes in, in the differences.

Painting is a spiritual journey for me. Painting, creating beauty, is a form of prayer. When I sketch or paint a landscape, I connect with nature and the source of all life. When I work in my art journal, I connect with the source of all life within me, and with my understanding of how that shows up in my life.

Painting teaches me skills I use in the rest of my life. For example, when the painting I am working on gets ugly, I learn when to let go and start over, and when to keep going until beauty emerges. That I can work through the ugliness until beauty emerges – wow, what a learning to take into the rest of my life!

How about you? What place does art have in your life?

March 1, 2023

About Author

suzanna Suzanna Leigh is a long time island resident, writer, and artist. "I used to visit my parents, who moved to Vashon in 1969, when my father retired from the Air Force. One time when I came to visit, as a single mother with a four year old son, I stayed. I grew up an 'Air Force brat', living all over the nation and in Europe, but Vashon is the first place that felt like home.