I hate labels. I always have. Labels create boxes that we then feel the need to try and fit into. The problem comes when you realize that the box for your Label #1 isn’t the same box as someone else’s Label #1. If you aren’t x, y, & z, then you don’t fit their Label #1. Then another person says that you need to be p, x & z to fit that same box, but you are b & z and purple and 5 and emotions and you associate all of that with Label #1. Labels do serve a purpose. They help us to understand other people, but more often than not, we use them to stereotype and judge rather than to understand. We use them not just to judge others, but to judge ourselves as well.
That has been part of my struggle to claim the label artist. I have always viewed an artist as someone who creates. Painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, baking, photography, music, dance, silversmithing. All of those are various different (and not all encompassing) types of art. Theoretically, someone who does any of those things would then be an artist. My hang up has always been that the person doing it actually DOES it. They have a focus to do it. They spend time on a regular basis working on their craft. I don’t even really think they need to be making money, just as long as they do it. Me? I don’t sit down and regularly work on any of the things I do. I don’t have any kind of what I’d call a body of work that shows I’m an artist. I have a disparate portfolio of all of the various different things I’ve worked on over the years and that covers a broad spectrum of mediums and genres. The bulk of those areas fall into my silversmithing work, which I did focus on for a few years, but haven’t done in a long while; the cake baking/decorating, which only happens once or twice a year; and photography. There are one offs all over the place that I consider, for me anyway, to be more like craft projects. Because of that, I’ve always felt a bit wrong in saying that I’m an artist as my own definition of the term doesn’t exactly fit. Hobbyist seems to fit better, but it doesn’t quiet feel right either.
I do not claim to be a photographer either even though that is the bulk of the art I do create. I don’t because, honestly? I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. I was asked how I managed to get a photo the other day and I cannot give any kind of a precise answer. I can tell you the camera I use. I can tell you the lens. I can even tell you if I used a tripod or not. I know when to use all of those various different tools. Ask me the f-stop or shutter speed and my brain starts to glaze over (because they are numbers and my brain and numbers just don’t work well together). I don’t know that I could accurately even tell you what each one does. I know in a kinda way, enough to know what I need to adjust to change something if I don’t like what I’m seeing, but not enough to know how to get the settings right the first time in a lot of situations. The two settings I almost always adjust are the film speed and the shutter speed and that is almost always after I’ve attempted to take a couple of test shots first and only if the situation will not allow me to take the kinds of pictures I want on one of the auto modes. Even then, I’m not sure I can clearly explain why. Most of the time, I just think I’m really lucky. Yes, absolutely, it takes a certain eye to be able to see what will make a good photo. You have to understand composition and lighting and color and see when you have the right mix and when you don’t. That part is a skill and has nothing to do with luck. I think I normally do pretty good at that part. It is the rest I struggle with and why I tend to say that I do photography as a hobby and not that I am a photographer even though I do consider it as one of my art forms.
There are lots of labels I’ve struggled with. Either to claim or to try and shed. Many of those struggles are because I do try to be honest and if I feel like I’m not doing that by using a label, then I won’t be comfortable with it. I am much more comfortable now using the label artist than I ever have been, but I think it will be a long time before I feel comfortable claiming photographer.