Editorial by Joyce Owens: on "An Artist by Any Other Name"



image from Wikimedia Commons

Thanks, I believe, to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince who began calling himself





"The Artist" when he lost the rights to his name in the 1990's, saying one is an artist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist is not definitive, as it used to be. So I am compelled to say visual artist statement because you may think I am an actor, who we now call artist. Not saying that actors are NOT artists, but they used to be referred to as actors and actresses, maybe thespians, and easy to differentiate from artists who are painters, printmakers, photographers or sculptors and the like. And of course, I am not talking about musicians, who used to be called musicians, or trombonists or pianists and not artists. But they are artists now, too, so you have to make sure you know when people mean musicians and not actors or actors and not artists, I mean visual artists.


How come this feels like stepping backward for visual artists? You can guess that it follows that an article in a newspaper, blog or webzine referring to artists probably does not mean visual artists. Visual artists seem rarer in the press than ever. It reminds me of black people in the 1950's, today artists are usually found at the back of the book! Don't believe me; take a look at some of the publications that used to be the go-to read to find out what's up on the local art scene. You have to page through a lot of artists to get to the visual artists.


Why am I feeling that artists, visual artists, have become background noise? I have also noticed that often print publications don't identify paintings, drawings and sculptures in photos. The art may even get a mention but the artist does not!


"Wonder who the artist is", I ask myself, and I look for the credit. If the article is about an artist who is a musician or actor who lives in a great house that some musicians and actors seem to find affordable moreso than visual artists who have nice studios, maybe, but rarely make the money an artist who is a musician or actor makes to buy the high end art that will be in the photos that don't get identified. Can you imagine the reaction editors would get from a musician whose work was used in a clip on the internet and the music was not attributed to the creator or performer? Lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit!


Hey, in most magazines the clothes are identified that folks are wearing. The stylist who chose the clothes is named. The model and the agency are named.  So what is the problem with the visual artist getting their props?


Don't really know when the transition took place. It crept into my consciousness as I started to pay attention to all the visual art I saw on TV shows, and in magazines that was not given credit. And one day it also sunk in that "artist" no longer only meant what I do.  We have been ignored, demoted and dismissed.

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Tags: artist, artists, joyceowens, prince


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  • I was just having the conversation about artist credit with myself the other day when I was reading Uptown Chicago Magazine. They have a fashion spread called "The Art of Miami". They have this model posed in front of various street art around the city. I was pretty shocked to see that they included the names of the muralists, but I guess when you have the word art in the title of the spread you have to give due credit. Otherwise, it's something you never see. I think the artists should have a say in that. They could threaten lawsuit with the rest of them!

  • So now we have to say Visual Artist to differentiate ourselves from the riff-raff. Yeah, I hate how the word

  • The only way visual artists can reclaim their good name is to drop the visual. Just say and write "artist." Make it an encumbrance on the listener or reader to realize that an artist is an artist and a musician is a "recording artist" and an actor is a "theatrical artist."

    Of course, whenever my novel, "Sweetspeare's Sirens: A Tell-All Memoir by Pierce Trotter" finally gets published, I'll be a non-visual artist too.

  • You think visual artists get a bad rap...try being a poet! I've taken to simply "artist" as the previous post suggests. This thread reminds me of an article my artist/father wrote back in the 60s about how visual artists were treated unfairly because they were the only artists expected to pay to be seen and the audience wasn't expected to pay. Can you imagine a band having to pay to play and the audience getting in for free? OK...the band may have to rent a stage, but the ticket price is worked out to cover that. To show at art fairs, visual artists are expected to fork over a huge fee and, even if there's an admission fee, the artist never gets a cut.

  • As soon as I read this post, I had a million comments. Absolutely, what a stolen term. Historically, an artist painted and a writer wrote.

    But it was such a great term! The associations were so enviable, who wouldn't want that title! "Artist" has implications of a visionary, someone who transcends the everyday, creates social change. Who wouldn't want a piece of that?

    I make visual art, but I'll always be a better writer. It's not a choice, it's just genetics and how my brain works. And even among the written arts, I remember a teacher saying, "no one in our society can understand that... well, maybe the poets."

    And I was so jealous, Emily, you think poets have it bad, try fiction writers! We're like the gum on the shoe of the arts. We can't even go to art school, or high schools for the arts, we stay in public education.

    So it's jealousy - I can only say that for myself, but I'll be first in line to admit it. But I have to say also, that what happens mentally, in terms of juices flowing when I'm in the midst of creation - the writing process and sculpting process are identical to me. It's a physical feeling and it's the same feeling in both mediums.


  • One other comment about contracts and getting credit - google the movie "The Breakup" I think the Reader did a piece on it. They asked a bunch of Chicago artists in they could use their artwork in the movie. ONE ARTIST put in a contractual clause that she get credited. SHE WAS THE ONLY ONE.

    If you get approached, put it in writing that you must be credited. Contracts can be ammeneded. Don't be shy.

    Thank everyone for posting and supporting the site.


  • This, for me, is about respect, or lack of it, for visual artists and it is semantics. If everyone is "artist" how do we tell each other apart. I presume an actor is also an artist. I don't presume an artist is an actor.

    Secondarily, points made by emilyc that visual artists have to pay to perform in hopes of someone paying for what they have done is a very specific difference between the various arts. We don't drive the benjamins the way the other arts (except poetry, I guess) do.

    Of course, Johnny Depp is an artist. Monroe, thanks for your clarifying statement. If Mr. Depp is described as an artist, some folks will think he makes pictures. And, of course he may be a painter, printmaker or photographer, too. But for language and clarity sake, can we can we be more like the folks who seem to have tons of artistry, the computer folks? Computer people come up with new words to specifically define their intentions and meanings, seemingly on a daily basis.

    2.0 means something specific! So should artist!

  • by the way, we have some brothers (literally related to each other by parentage) who do repair work.They call themselves handymen. They get a cash payment as soon as the job is done!

    They are creative and resourceful and can fix anything! But are they artists?

    I'm currently considering calling myself the plumber, instead of the artist!

  • Great point about artwork not being credited in glossy magazine layouts. This pet peeve has become a (sad) joke between me and my artist friends...we're always pointing it out to each other. When it happens to you, it's actually kind of a bummer, because it really does make a difference. The one time a credit was actually included in a spread one of my paintings appeared in, I received a number of emails from interested parties that took the time to google. An artist we represent coincidentally appeared in the same spread. No credit. No subsequent calls. In our current press-light art world, artists need all the help they can get. If it's worth photographing for your pretty spread, it's certainly worth the extra line of teeny little 4 point type!

  • Whenever I watch a TV show, movie, ect. and I think about that fact that finding info about the art used is non excitant. However, if I want to find out the designer of the clothing used it is only a google search away. The show Fraiser was pretty good at including Artist's names in dialogue (albeit, it was for status). The Chulluy in his living room was often referred to by name.

    I think it is a difference in how painting, drawing, ect... is seen. There is no "performance" no applauding. No red carpet. I think we all need better publicists!


    ps Hi Joyce!

  • Thanks, all. (Hi Ellen!)

    I encourage artists to thank people who are responsible for putting their name in print in a feature or review. We also have to email that question "Who is the artist whose work was seen on page 10?" when the name of the artist is missing.


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