pen and ink geometric design of a squirrel with a nut

What’s an artist?

by Tricia Enns

What does it take to be an artist? What does it mean? I used to think everyone was an artist, or at least had the ability to be one, but now I am not so sure.

I do believe everyone is creative, but art and creativity are different things, and to call yourself an artist takes a certain type of person. Just this year, I decided to label myself an artist. I have been creating art my whole life, but now I associate it with my identity. In this short time, here is what I have learnt:

  1. First of all, being an artist takes a lot of confidence. Mountains of it. Not cockiness, but confidence. You have to be ready for a lot of criticism. People are not going to understand your work, people are going to call you lazy and self-centred, your family will most likely disapprove of your self indulgent lifestyle and your postbox will overflow with proposal rejection letters. But of all the critics, the worst is yourself. You are going to constantly doubt yourself: “It’s not good enough”, “What’s the point?”, “No one is ‘liking’ what I posted!”, “Who is going to fund me?”, “What I do is not that unique”… The list goes on. I have had each one of these thoughts at one point or another. I try my best to acknowledge them and move on, but sometimes I stumble and fall.
  2. With that self criticism come dark spells. Dark spells can often be mitigated or avoided by taking time for self-love and care – but who has time for that crap?! The constant hustle leaves little time for celebrating what makes you awesome. This causes you to spend most of your time focusing on all of those rejection letters, and your amazing ability to not quite make it. And, since you’re an artist, you’re probably pretty strapped for cash, and thus feel like you can’t justify taking one or two days a week to yourself. At least, I struggle to justify this. Paying rent or mental sanity this week? Paying rent wins 9 out of 10 times. Despite me calling self-love ‘crap’ earlier, it’s so important. For example, just this past week, I had a meltdown, full force tears exploding out of me in a public toilet! Granted, it was a good cry, but it resulted in a foggy sadness resting over my working weekend. Suffice to say that I forced myself to take the Monday off. Taking a day off was amazing – but why can we not justify it until a breakdown occurs? Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.
  3. Speaking of paying rent, choosing to be an artist basically means choosing to be worried about money for the rest of your life. There have been studies showing that artists consistently, on average, make less then minimum wage. I recently went to an amazing talk by Ursula Johnson, an inspiring globally known Mi’kmaw First Nation artist, who admitted to still requiring a second job to pay the bills. Even artists who have their work in national galleries, travel the world, and have won many prestigious awards still require part-time jobs! Artists are not valued, and as a result have to work extremely hard, and no doubt many struggle with constant self-doubt and identity crisis. How would you not, when living in a world that sees art like the fringe around the hem of a skirt: just some extra pretty fluff?

Now that I have sufficiently made you never want to call yourself an artist, let me tell you that being an artist is amazingly magical. It provides a freedom that few other professions allow. I am able to dive deeply into learning about whatever piques my interest in the name of art. For example, over the past six months I have been working on several honey bee related works and learning about the honey bee, a fascinating insect.

Being an artist also means having an amazing power and tool to shine a spotlight on important topics and respond to global and local events. Although art may not be financially valued in our society, it is still highly influential. For example, One Two Three Swing!, an exhibition that was recently at the Tate Modern, is a playful interactive exhibition that challenges our current economic systems and contrasts it with a sense of collaboration, and liberation. Have you ever experienced a piece of art and felt moved all the way down to the soles of your feet? As an artist you have the super power, if you choose to use it, to challenge social norms and arguably force people to feel and think about the uncomfortable. This is not always an easy role, and the artist is not always celebrated for it, but regardless, it is very important.

So what does it take to be an artist? To me, an artist is someone who is resilient, confident, self-aware and resourceful. An artist is someone who challenges the status quo, and does not shy away from making people feel uncomfortable while also being empathetic. An artist is someone who feels deeply. An artist regularly cries and laughs. Are you an artist?

To keep up with Tricia’s work, follow her at

Please note that this blog was written based on personal experiences, and is not a comment on others’ experiences. – TE