Yes, I know. No one likes to be defined. Least of all artists. Resisting definition is the whole point of our existence. We’re creators. That means: making things you’ve never seen before. How can you possibly define that? I know, I’m an artist too. Check this out: the goal of having an artist identity isn’t to box you in. Quite the contrary: the goal is to let you come out and play in your full glorious self. You’re not the average person. Right? When you arrive at the party people get excited because it’s going to be a party. When you show up for a panel, the dialogue is amazing and everybody comes up to you afterwards. You killed it. Or, maybe you’re the silent but deadly type: You don’t even show up for the opening of your latest exhibition, you just send a perfectly finished, unnamed painting - the one that people walk in and stare at for hours and everyone wonders Who is the artist? Meanwhile, you are at your home studio working on the next proposal to send of to London, Rome, somewhere. Mmmmhmmm. Come on. You have an identity. Stop resisting definition and get busy controlling your identity just like you (we) do everything else. Let’s talk about defining your artist identity so you can take control of it and connect on a deeper level with yourself and the people who enjoy your work.
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Who are you? If I give you my identification card it will tell you that I am a California girl and an a 80s baby. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are very important details but is this the extent of my identity? No, I think not. In today’s world, identity can be a complicated subject but as an artist, your identity is something that you must know, claim and celebrate. Identity is so much more than the limited boxes that we are given and it is important for artists to understand who we are and value what we have to offer to society because at the core of your business, your product and your personal artist brand is you and that is who the world needs to see. Your work is to exist truthfully in a world that despises difference because your difference is your brand distinction. This distinction is what the world needs. There are three things at the core of a well-defined artist identity. My goal in the article is to give you a clear, firm, foundational understanding of the personal artist identity. Defining your identity, will enable you to distinguish yourself in the minds of colleagues, ticket buyers, customers, clients, and investors so that you can be sought after for what you do and how you do it, thus, attracting the respect and the audience that you deserve.
Let’s go through the core parts of your artist identity that will shape and mold everything you do: story, values and style.
Your background and personal experiences comprise your story. And, your story is the foundation of your artist identity.
The beautiful thing about defining your identity is that you do not have to create or make it up because your artist identity begins with your story. Your story combines your background and experiences. You are not your background or your experiences but both speak to your approach to your artistic work. Your goal is to draw out those things that make you unique so that you can understand who you are and what you bring to your craft. Answer the questions below to review your background and past experiences.
You did not decide when, where or how you would be born but these things define you nonetheless.
- What is your hometown? What is unique about it? How did the culture of your hometown shape your perspective of yourself and the world? Are there any perspectives that you learned in your hometown that you carry that often distinguish you from other artists?
- Who raised you? What did they teach you about life? What is your most defining memory with those who raised you?
- Describe your artistic career thus far? What subjects or themes do respond to most? What works of art do you find irresistible?
- Is there a connection between your place of origin, the people who raised you, and your artistic interests? Explain what it is. If there is no obvious connection, see if you can find the origin of your interest what you create.
- Describe how you first became aware of your artistic medium. Was there a friend, artist or teacher who taught you?
- Aside from the above, who or what has influenced your thinking the most? What artists do you admire?
How do you respond to the circumstances of life? Your consistent response to life’s ups and downs reflects your values.
If you think about your background and experiences, it is likely that you can also think of someone who has the same background and experiences but they are nothing like you. How can this be? This is where identity begins. The way that you respond to your given circumstances reflects your core identity values.
Reflecting on your past experience and upbringing, identify three moments in your life that changed the way that you think. Describe each of these experiences. How did you respond to this experience? What does your response say about you and what you value? Consider the last thing that you created as an artist in your field: does it reflect the values that you mentioned in your last response? Which values did your work reflect? As you continue reflecting on past experiences and thinking about the artistic work that you create, you will begin to see certain values that continue to emerge. Write down the 3 values that you see the most.
Style is the way you do it.
Now, style. Why is it that some artists have a stronger impact than others? I think it has to do with style. Some artists find themselves in the midst of personal turmoil and they manage to work their way through it, put out a platinum album and somehow, pain starts to look good. How do they do that? Their values are reflected in their artistic style. Style is the last part of the artist identity. How do you reflect your background, story and values in your artistic work? Consider your fashion, speech, and you approach your art.
Once you have your artistic identity defined, you can refine and hone it as you grow in your field. As you brand yourself, you will use this knowledge of your identity to create any images, product packaging, logos, websites, social media pages and more with this unique brand in mind. Your audience will know what to expect and they will readily identify something that you created. Remember, in everything you do: be yourself. You are an artist for a reason and I applaud you for your courage. Embrace your identity. These things are what make you unique.