The trouble with the word "Art"

So here's the thing.....I've been painting professionally for nearly 20 years...and for the first 6-7 years, I refused to call myself an artist.  Then, for the next 6-7 years, I grew comfortable with calling myself an artist. Now, while I am very comfortable calling myself an artist, it's more because I think of myself as an artist in all areas of my life, whether it's cooking or gardening or rearranging the books on the shelves. But I am still ambivalent about the title when it comes to painting. My dilemma has always been that, if I paint what customers ask me to paint, albeit in my own way, but with their preferences as my parameters, then is what I do really art? 

I mean, the word Art for me has always implied finished work that wasn't largely dictated by the desires of another person.  If it is, then it's not art, it's craft....I'm simply a pair of hands making tactile what someone else envisions.

Of course, when I think about what is considered Art in historical terms, then my definition doesn't hold up. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter.  He only painted the Sistine Chapel for the money...as far as I can tell he felt no affinity for the Church...it was just a job. And I'm pretty sure the Church officials told him what stories they wanted to see depicted.

But, it wasn't the Church's direction that makes the Sistine Chapel Art, but rather Michelangelo's skill and vision in executing their direction.

I am in no way comparing myself to Michelangelo, but he is considered one of the greatest Artists of all time, and yet he painted what others wanted him to paint, for money.

I understand that times were different then, that the definition of what Art was a bit different too. Artists were considered "artisans" and needed patrons to survive; self expression for self-expressions' sake wasn't a factor.

It is now though.  So my question remains, in these times, is painting what a client wants, using my skill and vision, considered Art?

And my answer is..prehaps.  Sometimes.  Maybe.

I never wanted to be an artist.

Growing up I loved to draw. I was one of those kids who would spend hours after school drawing horses and Garfield and the simply dreamy members of the band Duran Duran. People told me I should be an artist when I grew up and yet I never wanted to be an artist. For some unknown reason, my concept of an artist was a person who sat in a cubicle all day drawing someone else's designs over and over. I didn't want to draw what other people told me to draw. Plus, I thought artists were irreversibly poor and, here is the truth, smelly. Yes, my teenager image of a "real" artist was a man (not a woman) who basically gave up creature comforts and personal hygiene for the sake of his art. I liked beds and clean clothes and a sense of financial security too much to consider a career in art. So I went to University to study something practical. And while I was there, I was again told I should do something with my art.  I was introduced to a man who painted murals. I wasn't looking for a job, only advice about how to go about getting paid to paint pictures on people's walls to supplement my income while in school. Never mind the fact I had practically no experience using paint. No matter...I bought some illustration board and a few paints from the craft store and painstakingly painted (with VERY small brushes) some of the character animals I'd created.

Roger Dolin, founder of Mural Environments, was incredibly generous with his advice.

Three days later he offered me a job. He couldn't guarantee me steady work and the pay was $4/hour less than what I made at my current job, but I accepted his offer anyway.

I worked with Roger for 3 years, during which time I learned more from him and am more grateful than I can say. I started my own business after graduating in 1994 and have been a professional, full time artist ever since.

There's so much more to say about how I got from there to here, which is one of the reasons I wanted to create this space. I have learned a lot from being a self-supporting artist for over 20 years, knowledge which seems to me to fly in the face of some of the stereotypes about what it means to be an artist. I want to share some of the things I've learned; things about art and the process of making art, about running a business and dealing with customers.

And most importantly, as an artist, I want to share my art.

Because while I never wanted to be an "artist" when I as younger, today I can't imagine being anyone else.