The Art Biz ep. 88: How Do You Know When You’re an Artist? with James Holmes

At what point do you get to call yourself an artist? What do you need to have achieved in order to earn that title?

It's not an easy question to answer.

Some of my clients think they need to be working as a full-time artist before they can bestow the title on themselves. Until that point, they are teachers, marketing agents, engineers, and doctors.

Other clients are able to call themselves artists early in their careers. Why the big gap?

James Holmes public art commission | on Art Biz Success
©James Holmes, \”Metamorphosis\”. Acrylic on canvas, public art commission. Photo by Bill Masure.

Over about 3 decades of working with artists, I've observed that artists who went to art school have an easier time assuming the title of artist. Perhaps because there is a piece of paper in their possession—a document that says they have a BFA.

I am not saying that you need to or should go after that piece of paper. But shy of that, there is nobody who will sprinkle magic fairy dust and bestow the title of artist on you. So what do you do?

My guest for this episode of the Art Biz Podcast is James Holmes, who shares the 3 clear criteria he created before he could call himself an artist, the why behind each of them, and the moment in which he was able to mark them off the list and assume the artist mantle.

Music by Wildermiss


  • The horseback riding accident that set James on the artist’s path. (3:41)
  • Connections in the art world that encouraged James to continue making art. (10:51)
  • The day job that doubles as James’s other passion. (12:10)
  • When is the right time to start professionalizing your art and call yourself an artist? (14:31)
  • James’s initial response to being called an artist. (22:16)
  • Three criteria that James created before he would call himself an artist. (26:32)
  • How to be true to and satisfied with the work you make, even amidst criticism. (28:25)
  • The moment that James’s art was acknowledged by an established artist. (35:20)
  • Selling a piece to someone who doesn’t know you beyond your art. (39:10)
  • A look at the work that is keeping James busy now. (42:20)
James Holmes painting exhibition | on Art Biz Success
James Holmes solo exhibition at the Centura Health Healing Gallery at Parker Adventist Hospital. Photo by Wes Magyar.


James Holmes abstract painting | on Art Biz Success
©2021 James Holmes, The Line Which Leads Back to You. Acrylic on wrapped canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Photo by James Holmes Studio.

James Holmes Quotes

“I had to figure out what being an artist means. When do I think I’ve achieved that?”

“It was a lesson that was well learned. It turned out to take me to another level of my creativity.”

“That night it all manifested because I believed in the art enough to exhibit it.”

About My Guest

James Holmes with painting | on Art Biz Success
James Holmes with The Line Which Leads Back to You.

James Holmes is a Denver-based visual artist. As an abstract painter, James shared “I paint from the inside out. I believe painting from the inside out allows me to outwardly communicate my inner life. Everything I internalize, the experiences I have, the people in my life, my hopes, dreams, and faith are all reflected from heart, mind, and soul through the prism of my intuitive lenses resulting in artistic expressions utilizing a variety of media.”

James maintains a studio in Denver’s Golden Triangle arts district and exhibits at the Veterans Arts Council Gallery, Centura Health Healing Gallery, and other venues. James is a Trustee of the Denver Art Museum and Executive Director of the Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation.

Find James on Instagram: @jamesholmesstudio

Music by Wildermiss

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4 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 88: How Do You Know When You’re an Artist? with James Holmes”

  1. I listened to this podcast with great interest. As someone who earned a BFA and an MFA in studio art, I have not spent too much time considering whether I can call myself an artist or not. That said, I have noticed people who hold academic art degrees in art often refer to themselves as an artist based on this credential alone, whether they are still making art or not does not appear to be part of the consideration.

    James’ self-defined credentials for when he felt he could refer to himself an artist is brilliant. He decided on three credentials and then made all three happen. I also loved his openness to critique, something that is difficult for many artists to accept. Bravo on this well thought out plan, James. I just loved listening to your interview.

  2. I was immediately drawn in to this interview – as I listened while on a walk in Englewood – where James is from. I love his plan and it made me think back – I held off calling myself an artist for a long time. In fact, I have just recently begun adding musician to the mix – and I’ve been playing the piano since I was five!!! It was so ingrained in my being that I couldn’t see the worth of defining myself as such. I thought his three steps brilliant and I love the way he embraced learning and critiques. He came across as a very kind and caring person that really has set goals for himself while going through a tumultuous time. Great listen while on a great walk!

  3. Artist is a vague term and that’s a good thing. Who among us is qualified to set forth standards to which “artist” must conform or make final judgments about who conforms? Better to devote your mental energies to the business of improving your product than wondering if you’re an artist.

    Gary Michael

    1. Gary – I agree that the term is somewhat vague, I also believe it is relevant across many disciplines. Clarity enters into the conversation when we speak on a specific topic as in this case visual art. I noted this quote on your website:“Not wanting to go to my grave wondering if I could be an artist, I resigned a professorship of philosophy and went at it. Forty years later I’m still at it and, at times, still wondering. It’s been a fun and frustrating ride.”

      It seems you have asked and explored this question yourself which is a worthy point for contemplation even as we evolve our painting practices.

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