Case Study: What is an Artist?

What are artists, anyway?

In her excellent new essay published this month in Canadian Art, art critic and author Sarah Thornton seeks to clarify the distinction between artists and craftspeople. Her definition of “artist” posits that the key aspect that separates them from the rest of us is their inventiveness. “Contemporary artists are ideas people,” she explains, “who aspire to originality… The people that society treats as artists are professional thought-provokers who earn the right to be taken seriously through (a) insistent artworks, (b) convincing interpersonal and mediated communication and (c) opportune art-world affiliations.”

This useful (if debatable) essay helps highlight the importance of new ideas and how interesting, fresh concepts inject value to artworks that may not necessarily appear “beautiful” or “difficult to make”.

We recommend reading Thornton’s full essay here and welcome your thoughts at

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