Roo Williams

Maker to Artist

As a maker, I am intrigued by other people's creations. When I view something another human has created, one of the facets I like to examine of a human output eg. a piece of art, is the technical realisation of the piece.

I often find myself in galleries studying artwork, not for conceptual statements made by the work, but for the ways they have been constructed. As someone that loves to make, it's often easy to think, 'I could have made this' and in this, I am not alone.

I have been in the company of other makers who have examined a piece and said exactly the same thing. Reflecting on this behaviour makes me realise that it comes off as cynical and crude, as if questioning the artist or attempting to take them down from the glorification of a show or a plinth dedicated to their work into a domain where I can feel comfortable.

There are many successful artists that don't have the technical ability to execute their own ideas. Does this make them any less of an artist?
If a talented maker could replicate an artist's work then what's the difference between the two?
Please humour me as I stumble through this.

What is an Artist?

The way I see it, anyone that is able to create something uniquely true to themselves is an artist. When an artist creates a consistent body of work, they're able to imagine and create a unique 'world', communicating that world in a way that that allows others to experience it. Their output could be a collection of drawings made with pencils, a sculpture, or in some instances, a business venture. It might exist to say something about something, or not. It might even intentionally try to coax people to form their own interpretations. True art is as unique as the person that created it, maybe not in execution, eg. Warhol, but in the WHY?.

Artists have connected with at least a fragment of their inner desires and have found a medium in which to express them. They push parameters of the cultural envelope and so are the people we see written up in publications. They're the people we follow, would love to work with, and aspire to be.

For a maker, it's an enviable position to be in.

What is a Maker?

I am a maker. I was a self-taught graphic designer that formally studied product design, taught myself to code, use digital fabrication tools like 3D printers, create interactive experiments using micro-controllers and electronic components and make many things with my hands. I have spent weekends and evenings tinkering with materials, tools and technologies, pushed along by curiosity and enjoying the benefits of all the maker tools available to us during the Anthropocene to no useful effect other than self-education. I have also semi-successfully managed to make a very decent living by making to answer briefs within a commercial context.

For me, being a maker meant producing things that contribute to someone else's vision.

Creating under supervision. It's like being a drummer and joining a cover band you don't love; you're glad to be part of something, doing your thing. You're happy that some people with a certain taste might even pay you, but on the whole you don't really dig the music. You'd rather be playing music of your own imagination.

What's the Difference?

The difference between an artist and a maker as defined above?
The artist creates to express themselves while the maker produces things under the supervision of others.

The artist is working towards the process of connecting with, and expressing themselves. It is a form of inquiry but also results, a practice rather than an occupation. They're following that which makes them curious.

The maker takes on projects with a lifecycle and uses their talents to produce results. The right project could have aspects to it that make them curious, but it is an occupation.
They both need to earn money - the path to that is more straight forward for the maker, and less easy for the artist.

Why Am I a Maker?

Leaving the stable world of university with a life built in London, UK propped up by student finance I needed to find work right away. I had to get a job in an industry that wanted my skills. It was tough and a lot of my peers struggled to get work worthy of their education. I was diligent and lucky enough to get a foothold within the advertising industry, starting with a paid internship.

8 years later, despite some interesting projects, I still never really felt fulfilled there. I would tell myself that advertising helps spread ideas and one day I will be able to use the skills I was developing for good. Ultimately we were still just trying to motivate people to buy products. The more product sold, the better, and as someone conscious of consumerism and environmental issues, I could never really find the hook that justified what I was doing, other than "you gotta start somewhere".

Around my paid work, I spent free time with my then girlfriend, now wife, and learning new making skills, but not really thinking about things that made me curious, and connecting with my true passions.

Why Question This Now?

Recently, and unexpectedly I was given an incredible opportunity. After a visa issue left me unable to work in the USA, my wife and I agreed that I would spend my time developing ideas for the future while my wife supported us both.

I was not prepared for this and so I am starting from scratch, beginning with questioning what I have been doing for the past 8 years and figuring out how to go forward in a way that will become true to what I should be doing.

The truth is, I've always wanted to become an artist.

I feel like the "I could have built this" thought was actually just a well-intentioned piece of self-talk to try and push me to do my own thing. We want nothing more than to express ourselves, fully. As a maker, I feel like executing artistic output might be the easiest part, but uncovering what a true expression of the self is involves digging deep under years of conditioning and noise.

What Next?

Now is the time to reconnect with my inner nerdy child.

My hope is that by finding that which is important to me and intersecting it with the skills I have built over the years will result in a venture that can generate a steady and substantial income when it will be my turn to support my wife, and a family.

I am starting this blog as a tool for reflection and thinking. I find that writing helps me tease out thoughts and process them and if on this journey I become confused, unfocused on unmotivated will provides a breadcrumb trail of how I got here.

It will be a communication tool to anyone that asks what I am up to now and I am hopeful in organically attracting a community and even people that may want to collaborate with me.

Onwards.