What Makes an Artist an Artist? Learn Idioms in Context

An artist in his studio stands in front two large, colorful canvases
Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

There are 17 idioms below, used in context in a story, that help describe the personality and character traits of many artists. Try reading one time to understand the gist without looking at the meanings of the sayings. On your second reading, use the definitions to help you understand the text and learn these new idioms. Finally, take the quiz after reading to practice using some of these expressions.

The Artist

What makes an artist? While there's no easy answer, there are certain characteristics that many artists and creative people seem to share. First, 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 by their own lights. In fact, for many of them, creating art is do or die.

Artists challenge us with their vision. They'd never slap something together that just looks pretty, and when they lose themselves in a new creation, you might not see them for several weeks. You'll often 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 track of time. Housework is certainly the last thing they're thinking about!

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 drabs. 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 stick to the straight and narrow. Instead, they take the road less traveled.

Idiom and Expression Definitions
break new ground innovate or create something new
your own lights your personal way, style, or inspiration, rather than that of others
do or die absolutely necessary
dribs and drabs very small or slow amounts
drop by visit
end in itself goal desired for its own sake or no greater purpose
leaps and bounds very large amounts of rapid progress
lose yourself become so involved that you don't notice anything else
make ends meet manage your resources sufficiently for your needs
mind's eye imagination, memory, or visualized thoughts
road less traveled an unconventional path, a choice that leads in a different direction than most people go
sink your teeth into become intensely involved, with one's utmost concentration, energy, determination, or enthusiasm
slap together make hastily, without much care to detail
spick and span extremely clean
straight and narrow proper best behavior
up and coming soon to be famous, established, noticed, or successful
walks of life backgrounds, places, lifestyles, classes, experiences, professions, or statuses

Idiom and Expression Quiz

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

Quiz Answers

  1. dribs and drabs
  2. leaps and bounds
  3. spick and span
  4. up and coming
  5. straight and narrow
  6. own lights
  7. mind's eye
  8. sink (my) teeth into
  9. breaks new ground
  10. all walks of life