CLUTCH: What Makes an Artist?

By Desiree Gamotin With a whole day off this past Friday, I set aside time to finally finish my encaustic collage, which I began about three weeks ago with Leah Gold (see Oct. 11 post on http://clutchwomen.blogspot.com). I’ve been struggling with it—aesthetically, I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out the first time. I couldn’t even decide if it was too flashy (was there too much gold leaf on one side? too much glitter?), too tacky (did the three-dimensional mini shells and pearls resemble my third grade macaroni project?), too harsh (I think I went overboard with the dark blue wax I layered on the corners), or too empty (the sketch I drew on the bottom left corner reveals too much white space). Quite frankly, I felt like this was something you would hang up above my bathroom toilet.

So I decided to melt off the entire left side, start off fresh, maybe make something brilliant out of it. I tried putting in a photo I took in the Philippines to replace the sketch. That didn’t work. Melt. I tried engraving new words on the wax. Didn’t look so good. Melt. I tried mixing colours, writing poetry onto tracing paper, drawing up new images to go with my lonely compass-unicorn. Even worse than before. Melt. Melt. Melt. What ended up happening was I melted off the entire collage until all that was left was a beaten-looking board and a red-waxed corner with the words “Feed your” on the right corner. I was frustrated. I had to redo a completely different collage on a smaller board and I left the place disappointed, especially considering the therapeutic high I felt the last time I worked on the first collage.

I felt like one of those obnoxious diva artists, who need their water at a certain temperature before they could perform. I was fussy. Everything from the music to the studio space to my mindset at the time was just not right. Why was I acting this way? Was I simply masking my insecurities about being creatively uninclined through petty excuses? Why was I so hard on myself about something entirely new to me? Was I experiencing “artists’ block”?

It got me thinking about what actually makes an artist an artist. I remember I was telling a friend’s girlfriend about the CLUTCH program, our upcoming exhibit and the many projects we’re working on. She asked me, “Are you an artist?” “Oh, no no,” I stuttered. I think I even chuckled a little. But what is the criteria that allows one to use the title “artist”? Is it their portfolio of work? The popularity of their exhibits? Their reputation in the artistic community? Is it self-described, or do others have to officially christen you with the title? I write and I draw and I paint and I do photography and I make music. But nay, I am no artist! And it irks me when pretentious, self-righteous hipsters call themselves artists simply so they could justify wearing their acid-wash skinny jeans. Okay, that may be a little harsh. But I think the reason why I hold the title in such high regard is that I know some of the most creative, talented and innovative people, who I consider artists—many of them being at the Kapisanan Centre. And I wouldn’t consider myself even close to being in that same category.

But I guess that’s what this program’s for—for really instilling the confidence to call ourselves artists and not being afraid to dabble with multi-disciplinary forms. CLUTCH challenges all of us in the program to think out of the box and explore our creativity and listen and learn from other artists and their work. Being surrounded by these mentors, people who live for art and don’t care about the title, are the true artists. I’m hoping in the next few months, I am able to feed off of their energy and really be much more patient with myself and each project thrown at us. And to stop being such a freaking diva.