For artists not wanting to be pigeonholed as one genre or another, this question can seem intrusive and annoying. “Why should I have to limit myself to any one way, why can’t I be constantly evolving?” This may seem like a valid response, but for an artist that wants to become a professional artist, it is a question you must ask yourself and answer honestly.
Who are you can be as simple as where do you live, or how old are you? It can also be as complicated and detailed as, “I’m a classically trained photorealist painter who now works with found objects, clay, and a pottery wheel to create abstract constructions based on our consumer culture.” As human beings, we are constantly evolving and I would hate to see anyone who stayed the same at 50 as they were when they were 20 years old. We need to grow and evolve, especially for creative individuals, but who you are and what your story says about you is vitally important to why people relate to your art and want to own parts of it. As an art consultant and former gallery owner myself, I found that clients and collectors were most interested in the artist’s story, who they are or were. Once you tell their story, the client feels they know you in some way and can relate to you, and possibly can be a part of your creativity.
When artists begin to write their artist statement or biographical portrait, they must know who they are, and what it is they want to share with the world. You may not be comfortable sharing everything about who you are and why you are the way you are, but it is important to know what influences you and the factors that helped shape who you are as an artist. What influences you? This does not mean listing other artists you like and try to be like, nor does it mean what art movements have been interesting enough for you to follow. When asked the question “what are your influences” an artist must be prepared to share a bit of themselves that does not have to do with copying anybody or anything else. It has to do with who you are as a person and as a creative being, and why you would continue to work so hard at something that very few ever succeed in.
Art history honors the 1st and the most original within all new movements, it does not recognize the ones who thought that movement was interesting and followed along. I tell my kids frequently, “be a leader, not a follower.” Artists should honor that which is unique to them; be a first-rate version of your own self instead of a copy of someone else. A museum would never give a solo show to an artist who touted themselves as “influenced by Mark Rothko.” We all love Mark Rothko, but that is just not interesting to be purposely just like another more famous artist. What is more interesting would be that your work was influenced by living on a farm in rural Iowa and doing crop rotations every spring, creating mathematical grid patterns within a flat surface, and that the colors you use remind you of the rotting corn in August. That is unique to only you.