What Makes an Artist an Artist? Learn Idioms in Context

Artist Dude
An Artist. Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

Here is a discussion of what makes an artist. The focus is on personality characteristics and you'll find 15 new idioms defined below used in context in the story. Try reading one time to understand the gist without using the idiom definitions. On your second reading, use the definitions to help you understand the text while learning new idioms. Finally, take the quiz after the reading to practice the idioms and expressions you've learned.

The Artist

What makes an artist an artist? Well, there probably isn't any easy answer to that question. However, there are some personality characteristics that many artists seem to have in common. First of all, artists come from all walks of life. They may have been born rich or poor, but they are all dedicated to realizing what only they can see in their minds' eyes. Another common trait of artists is that they do things according to their own lights. In fact, for many of them, creating art is do or die. Of course, that also means that they are often perfectionists. They'll lose themselves in a new creation and you might not see them for the next few weeks. Often, you might drop by to check up on how they are doing and you'll discover that their apartment is anything but spick-and-span. It's no wonder because they've sunk their teeth into their latest work and completely lost all track of time. Housework is certainly the last thing on their mind!

Of course, this lifestyle often means that they can barely make ends meet. Jobs are few and far between and money comes in dribs and dabs. This is true even for up-and-coming superstars whose reputation is growing by leaps and bounds. Finally, artists see art as an end in itself. It's not about the money to them. They're different from normal people who mind their p's and q's. Artists challenge us with their vision. They'd never slap something together that just looks pretty.

Idiom and Expression Definitions

do something according to your own lights = do something your own way, follow your own inspiration rather than that of others
all walks of life = from many different backgrounds, classes, etc. 
an end in itself = something done only for the pleasure of doing it
break new ground = create something new, innovate
do or die = (used as an adjective) absolutely necessary
dribs and dabs = little by little, not happening continuously 
in your mind's eye = in your imagination
by leaps and bounds = grow or improve very quickly
lose yourself in something = become so involved that you don't notice anything else
make ends meet = earn enough money to live on
mind your p's and q's = be normal, not interfere with other people
sink your teeth into something = concentrate on doing a project seriously for a long time
slap something together = create something without much care to detail
spick-and-span = extremely clean
up-and-coming = soon to be famous, young talent becoming successful 

Idiom and Expression Quiz

  1. I'm afraid I can't follow your suggestion. I prefer to paint __________.
  2. Can you see that picture __________?
  3. Our son is very good at the piano. In fact, he's improving __________.
  4. Unfortunately, money is very tight at the moment. I don't have a steady job so the money is coming in __________.
  5. I'd love to _________ my __________ a new project.
  6. It's important that your house is _________ if you want to sell it.
  7. Peter is an _________ musician. He'll soon be famous.
  8. I think this work of art ________. It's completely different from anything before.
  9. Please be quiet and __________. I don't want to be bothered.
  10. Students attending the academy come from __________. You'll find people from all over the world with different backgrounds. 

Quiz Answers

  1. according to my own lights
  2. in your mind's eye
  3. by leaps and bounds
  4. dribs and dabs
  5. sink my teeth into
  6. spick-and-span
  7. up-and-coming
  8. breaks new ground
  9. mind your p's and q's
  10. all walks of life

You can learn more idioms and expressions in context with these stories.