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  • jess drass

"artist" is a dirty word

When you ask someone if they consider themselves an artist, what happens?

Go ahead. Try it.

Throughout my experiences over the past 20 years as an art teacher, art therapist, doctoral researcher and college professor I have found time and time again that most people will vehemently deny that label, regardless of their experience with artmaking. Why? Can you only call yourself an “artist” if you have your work hanging in a prestigious gallery or presented in a museum? By these standards, the label of “artist” would only apply to a very small percentage of the world’s population, yet most of us engage in some type of creative act every day.

In the societal cannon artists are continually “othered” and placed along a binary track where they (and their work) are caught up in an ongoing cycle of moving back and forth between a place of romantic idealism or one of devaluation and subjective criticism. The art product, and even to an extent the art process itself has been objectified, fetishized, and commoditized. The label of “artist” seems so unrealistic and unattainable that many people continue to put as much distance as possible between themselves and that label, while idolizing and idealizing those that they deem worthy of the privileged status of artist.

But what if we are going about this all wrong? What if we are all supposed to be artists? What if the role of artist is paramount to our resiliency, healing from trauma, and even our advancement as a species? That being an artist is not something that you either are or you aren’t, but instead is a process, a perspective, and a practice that can be activated in all of us as a pivotal tool for pain management, healing, transformation, and motivation?

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