This is an easy question for me to answer now, at the age of 60 – but it wasn’t so clear to me when I was younger. And the answer, at least to me, is very simple:
If the intent is to create something as a way to express yourself, with no regard for remuneration, then it’s art. How it will interpreted by others is an unknown, but if it was made with this intent, it doesn’t really matter. You didn’t make it to be paid, and you didn’t make it to receive affirmation from others. You made it because you were compelled to, because you felt a need to express yourself in this way.
When I was younger, I felt that defining something I made as art was pretentious, that somehow it was up to others to bestow this distinction. This was completely wrong – what on earth made me think that other people were qualified to make such a distinction? Not just about what I created, but about the works of others as well? People can say they hate something, that it’s bullshit, that it’s worthless, and that it’s certainly not art. In fact, the artists themselves may not define what they are doing as art. Because they didn’t create something so it could be defined as art – in fact, what society chooses to call it is of no consequence to them. They made it because they were compelled to express themselves in this way. Period.
Like so many things in life, it is all about intention. What is the intent behind the action?
Intent is everything.