When I was an art student, I earned the honor to study with the acclaimed artist and teacher Virginia Myers in the University of Iowa intaglio printmaking studio. I loved her classes and I worshipped the teacher. I worked hard but sometimes I was a little flakey. One day a student asked Virginia how do you know if you are really an artist? Virginia looked straight at her and said, “An artist can’t stop herself. She really has no choice about it.” What an answer! I was mortified. I was definitely not an artist by Virginia’s definition. Even though I wanted to be an artist more than anything and felt like an artist more than anything, I wasn’t exactly clamoring to be in the studio. To be honest I spent more time doing other things than making art. I took consciousness raising classes, chased boys and took up meditation. Then one day, after chastising myself for wasting yet another day, I finally understood what Virginia meant. What she really was talking about was obsession. It didn’t really matter whether I was making art or not, because if I wasn’t making art, I was torturing myself about not making art. I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t have any choice about it. So my choice was this: to be an artist who worked or one who didn’t.
Now that I am a working artist I look back on those days and think how what I was doing then was preparing me to be doing what I’m doing now. A real artist just is. Whether an artist makes something concrete or not you can always tell one by how they look at things. An artist doesn’t see things the way people of other pursuits see things. You’ll just have to trust me on this. We never get the opportunity to see how it feels to be in another person’s skin. But if you pay attention enough you will come to realize it is true.