Recently, I was in an art store with my mother in downtown Providence. She had just recently moved to the area and like a kid in a candy store, she was eager to be in this newfound shop. Cruising the aisles of tubes, brushes, and other tools, I hung by the front and watched my mother splurge on herself for a change. I was in no rush, just content being and so I tuned in to my surroundings. New to me as well, I began to eavesdrop on the various conversations taking place around me. I do this quite often, especially in an unfamiliar place, because it is a great way to get an idea about a culture or a people.
A gentlemen came up to the counter with a few items in his hands. The girl at the counter with a stale personality, asks him for his zip code, and he courteously obliged. With out a crack in expression, the girl continued,
"Are you an Artist?"
At first I thought she was just curious, trying to make small talk with this man, but then I realized it was a part of her job responsibility. The man responded,
"No, I guess I am a hobbyist?"
I stifled my laughter, to not offend anyone and went to locate my mother. I had to tell her about the exchange, because she would appreciate it just as much as me. "Isn't that such a subjective question?" She thought it was humorous too.
When my mother was ready to check-out, I knew she was secretly preparing for the question from the counter girl. Without skipping a beat, the girl asked,
"Are you an Artist?".
And my mother, the wonderful woman she
is, responds in full-smile,
"Opposed to what?"
Thrown off guard, the girl began to list off a series of other labels. A student, a teacher, a self-contractor.... I knew what my mother meant. My mother was all of these. An artist, a student, a teacher... and more; a mother, a sister, a lover... How could she just pick one label to describe herself?
I thought about the man that checked out before her, did he settle for the label "hobbyist"? Did he want to be an "Artist", but was he too self-critical to accept the label of "Artist"? Was he afraid of being judged by the disconnected items laying in front of him, as if they were not the right tools to create art?
I was sad for the girl at the counter, she didn't seem happy with her position. And to make it worse, she was required to ask meaningless questions for the sake of some marketing ploy. She didn't understand the pretentiousness of this loaded question and that for every other customer who left her counter, their trip home would be spent self-questioning the worth of their trade.
I laughed off the experience in the car home. And I wondered if I would see things differently if I wasn't an artist?
"We are not all painters, but we are all artists. To admire the every-day artist, is an appreciation of humanity."