What is an artist?

I've been thinking lately. What is an artist? How do you know if you are one? How do you recognize one even if they don't claim the label of "artist?"

I'm wondering about this for a few reasons. Mainly, it's because the book I'm planning involves artists and defining art and artists. And it's also because I have several friends who I would describe as artists, but who don't generally describe themselves that way. I'm curious about that. And finally, as I spend more and more of my own time on various "artistic" pursuits, such as painting, quilting, and writing, I wonder a bit about how I am defining myself, by both my actions and by the labels I lay claim to.

I have been careful not to lay claim to any labels like "artist" or "writer." I'm a mom who takes online art classes, does crafty projects like quilting, and is trying to write a novel. That is a bit more cumbersome than a one word label, but it is accurate, and it feels safe. Maybe too safe. Which brings me back to the questions about what defines an artist.

To be an artist or a writer, does one need to be making a living at it? Or is it about the percentage of your day you spend on the activity? Or the intensity with which you pursue the activity when you do it? Or is it about your spirit and your intent? Or is it about the skill level you possess, or the quality of the end product you produce?

Well, I found the answer in an unexpected place.

Last night I was reading Magic Treehouse (#41) to my son. Jack and Annie have been charged with finding an artist as part of their adventure. They aren't sure how to recognize an artist when they see one.
"Do you mean like a painter?" asked Annie. 
"It could be," said Teddy. "But it could also be any person who uses passion and imagination to create something beautiful." 

Well, I just love that. I don't know what I am, or what I'm doing, and I'm pretty sure labels don't matter anyway.

But I do know one thing.

I am going to try hard to use my passion and imagination to create something beautiful.

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