What is a creative? (And how do we define 'artist' anyway)

Yesterday I attended the Yarra Ranges Creative Communities Forum in Healesville. Amazing to be in a room of 200 creative leaders and practitioners discussing the role of art and culture,  creating vision and policy for the future role of creativity in their local community.

Earlier this month I had been commissioned to design the visual identity for the Forum itself, and so now was standing in a room of 200 creatives saturated by my own artwork. It was on the walls, on postcards on the table, signage, on the t-shirts the facilitators were wearing, floor stickers... everywhere!

There was a lot of discussion about what is an 'artist'? And why creatives are often uncomfortable to define themselves as "artists" or "writers" or "photographers" etc. As a graphic designer I am often confronted with ideas that I am not a "real" artist. Is it because I work for clients and work to their specifications? or because I do "commercial" art? or because I use technology and a digital medium as my creative modality? I create files for print every single day, and yet I am not a 'printmaker'. What is this cultural stigma we have attached to art and creativity being legitimate? and is it time to increase our scope and definitions?

Our ideas associated with this are often odd and idealised, I would like to suggest that many of the world's famous and most esteemed artists, such as Michelangelo, indeed did work for clients and to specified briefs. The 'client' involved in the Sistine chapel project was the Catholic church or more specifically Pope Clement VII, but the brief was changed under Pope Paul III, whose stronger reforming views affected the final design and outcome. The technology Michelangelo used was scaffold and fresco painting techniques. He also collaborated with a team of apprentices and other artists who helped with the painting, so many parts of the fresco are not even created by his own hand. And yet there is no argument that Michelangelo is a legitimate artist in our cultural history. What art did Michelangelo make for it's own sake? Would he have painted images of god if left to his own agenda?

In Michelangelo's time churches were the social and political hubs of the day and the artwork on the walls were their memes and emoticons. Michelangelo was on the cutting edge of social reform because he used the social mechanics of his era to find creative solutions to the brief he was given.

I, like most artists and designers, use creative process every day, multiple times a day, to find a creative solution to a brief. I earn a full-time income from creating visual solutions.  I can stand in this room full of creative practitioners and be visually saturated by my own creative output, yet I am often dismissed from the 'artist' community as somehow less than the more established and traditional art forms of poetry, painting and music.

Another example; I recently designed the layout and final art of a publication called From this place: Inspiring women artists from the Yarra Valley. The book documents the work and life of twelve artists and their relationship with creativity. Although my creative input was responsible for bringing together the photography and creative writing elements of this project, and creating the artwork that facilitated the actual printing of the book, ie. its physical manifestation into the world, my own creative practice would not usually be considered as valid subject matter to be included among the list of artist themselves.

We live in a world that is bursting with new creative mediums. Technology is opening up new forms of creative expression every day and yet our definitions of what an 'artist' is does not seem to be changing at the same pace. As creative people, it's time to claim new ways and spaces of defining ourselves.

So what is a creative anyway?

Creatives can be found in all modalities and industries. From computer gaming, to journalism, coding and software development, web design, film, podcasts, copywriting, blogging - on and on it goes. In fact all humans are 'creative'. If you use creative problem solving or a creative process in your work to 'create' something in the world - then you are in my definition a 'creative'. I have a friend who creates 'events' that have huge impact on social change. Why is she not an 'artist'? What she 'creates' changes the way people think about and experience their world, and their perspectives of life in a profound way. Check out the amazing projects of Gap filler in Christchurch NZ for more inspiring creative thinking that has responded to local need but would not be traditionally placed into the category of 'artist'. But what are these creatives doing that is any different from Michelangelo back in 1486?

If you are responding to and finding creative solutions to the the social need of your locality and place, and using the technology that is available to you in the age that you live in, how are you not an 'artist'?

Creative modality is also shifting rapidly. Which is why I suspect we creatives are uncomfortable to define themselves as a "writer" "actor" or "..." . We often cross many modalities, we collaborate across different fields and industries. We don't want to limit ourselves to just one art form any longer and because of technology we have the capacity to explore a bigger variety more than ever before. Jim Carey is a great example. Just this week a video was released on social media that showed what this reclusive 'actor' has been up to the last few years - and it's not acting! We are creative in our thinking and our expression, but that expression is allowed to change, and flow into new forms as is required.

So creative people take heart! It's time to claim your space in the artist's world. Redefine, re examine and change the boundaries of what we call 'artist'. Time to define yourself and not let others do it for you. We live in an exciting, rapidly changing world. Let your voice be heard in all the forms in which it wants to shout... or whisper.

Lastly, I leave you with this quote from Bruno Mundari's, Art as Design (penguin publishing 1971);

 "Today it has become necessary to demolish the myth of the 'star' artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair, and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher's shop (if he knows how to do it). The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men, well up in present day techniques, materials and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him."