Art as a Verb

Art as a Verb, Christine Nishiyama

Let’s talk about the word “art”. You probably think it’s noun, right?

Google defines art as:

noun. // The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Are We Artists?

I’ve always had a hard time calling myself an artist. Many people do. But why is that word so troublesome for us?

Early in my career, I was a designer. I eagerly accepted and claimed that title. I thought to myself: I have a design job, therefore I am a designer. I design, therefore I am a designer.

Later, I transitioned my career to illustration. That title also came easily to me. I illustrate, therefore I am an illustrator.

But what about the title, artist? Am I an artist? I’ve never quite known the answer to that question.

The root of the word “artist” is art. Do I “art”? Am I “art-ing”?

Why is the title artist so much more elusive and difficult for us to claim?

The Trouble with Art as a Noun

The trouble stems from the word “art” being thought of as a noun. A noun is a thing. So thinking of “art” as a noun places all the emphasis on the thing, the piece of art.

A designer designs.

An illustrator illustrates.

Why doesn’t an artist art?

I’m challenging you to think of art as more than just a noun. Try thinking of Art as a verb.

Art is about more than just the thing you create. It’s about more than the painting hanging on the gallery wall. It’s about more than the poem on the page. It’s about more than the drawing left behind in your sketchbook.

Art is not what you made, but how you made it.

Art is a process. An action. A verb.

Art as a Verb in Art History

Think back through art history, like the Impressionists of the 1860s in Paris. The Impressionist painters weren’t revolutionary just because of the things they made — the art as a noun.

They were revolutionary because they painted in small, segmented brush strokes instead of sweeping, smooth brush strokes. Because they painted with pure, intense color instead of dulled, mixed colors. Because they painted outside “en plein air” instead of inside a studio.

They were revolutionary because of how they made the things — the art as a verb.

They were revolutionary because of their process, not just the products.

Art As: Noun vs. Verb

When you think of art as a noun, it places all the emphasis and importance on the piece of art, not on the process of making art. Art as a noun asks “what will my piece say” and brings in the ego. Art as a noun demands each piece of art be so conceptual and so meaningful and so soul-shattering for it to be called Art.

But I don’t believe art is about the thing hanging on the wall. It’s not about the final product.

I believe art is something you do.

The piece of art is just what’s leftover from the process of art making. So art is not the thing hanging on your wall.

Art is creating.

Art is making.

Art is doing.

Art is a verb.

We are artists because we create, we make, we do.

We art.

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