ABOVE: This is a photo taken inside my studio. As you can see, I am a very tidy artist, even with work in progress.
Under my breath, I mutter that I am not a botanical or floral artist to no one in particular. When looking at my work, I’m certainly not a botanical artist. When looking at historical and present-day botanical paintings and drawings, I don’t think people would think of me as a botanical artist if they knew the precise definition.
These are lovely people and dear friends who think of me as a botanical artist. I don’t correct them. It’s human, we label. We like to place people into tidy categories, like filing cabinets and recipe books.
The truth is that the subject matter that interests me has to do with ecology, the environment, biodiversity, and climate change. These are what I try to depict through my art, accompanied by stories. It’s a work in progress, and I hope it leads me to become a better artist and storyteller.
I am thinking of the definition of an artist, too. I believe all people can be artists and are artists without knowing it. There was a time I fed into the idea that being an artist was an elite status — a gift bestrode to you by the gods. I don’t subscribe to this notion anymore.
Let me give you a definition of who I consider an artist. An artist is someone creative in their approach and open to ideas. They like to collaborate and value community. Making things, discovering things, or making something work better makes them feel alive. That pretty much accounts for most people.
I have been thinking a lot about identity, too. It’s a topic written and spoken about widely over the past two years (or more). I’ve been thinking about how important it is to acknowledge one’s identity for oneself. I think of it as a form of self-care. (I know, dear reader, self-care is a term dashed about and overused to the point that I cringe when I hear it mentioned.) In this case, the self-care I am talking about is taking care of one’s self-confidence, self-worth, and purpose.
Think about it. While it’s not your business to know what other people think of you, artist or otherwise, it’s essential that you know who you are and have the words for it.
I am not going to go into gender identity. I don’t have any authority or experience to offer other than I believe in the importance and significance of pronouns and people should be able to love who they love. Where I think acknowledging one’s identity for oneself is essential, women especially, artists, or otherwise, need to claim this.
I’ll give you how I identify myself as an example:
I am a post-modern ecological artist (thanks, Dad, for that. I’ll take it.)
I am a woman artist, apprentice poet, writer, designer, and beauty hunter.
At one time, I was not brave enough to say any of these things for fear of the classic “who do you think you are?” response or having people look at me like I was nuts, puzzled, not knowing what to do with that information. Now at 61, I am claiming who I am. It’s time to shed that Scandinavian reservedness of “toe the line,” “don’t make yourself stand out,” or what? What will happen? The earth has not stopped routing on its axis and people are still talking to me. There is both bravery and vulnerability in being an artist and this is just part of the package.
I will continue to let people refer to me as a botanical artist until I find a gentle way to break it to them that I’m really not. It’s what they understand. It’s an entry point, a way for them to get to know my art. I figure, over time, they’ll refer to me as a post-modern ecological artist and the rest of it, too.
Another way to approach one’s identity I learned is rooted in poetry and storytelling,* George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” It’s a rich expression of telling who you are to others that invite exchange, connection, and understanding. We are a blend of many things and many experiences that shape who we are.
Now Your Turn.
I would love to hear how you identify yourself either as a human, as an artist, or as both. You can do this as I did in my example or as in George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” Totally up to you. I know we will all be enriched and inspired by the words you found to say “this is who I am.” Write your answers in the comments. I try and reply to all.
I first heard about “Where I’m From” through Springboard for the Arts. The second time I experienced “Where I’m From” in practice was through a recent live workshop I attended at the Minneapolis Center of Book Arts (MCBA) called Water Wayfinding and Cut-Paper with artist Cynthia Weiss and story facilitator Angie Tillges. Yes! MCBA is now officially back open as I write this!
Angie Tillges is currently working on the Great River Passage Initiative and Conservancy project. Cynthia Weiss’s exhibition, Mismatch/Memory/Refuge, is on display in the Outlook Gallery at Minnesota Center for Book Arts from March 25–July 3, 2022, viewable from the sidewalk along Washington Avenue and inside The Shop at MCBA. A must-see!