“My Art Is Who I Am”: Artistic Identity in Andrea Del Sarto

In Andrea Del Sarto, Browning presents a portrayal of the artist as one who is born an artist, one who is created in order to create, you might say. He presents the ideal of an artist as being more than an occupation of making art, but as being an identity and destiny.

The speaker in the poem feels that his occupation and his identity are one and the same thing. He says, “As if I saw alike my work and self/ And all that I was born to be and do” (47-48). As shown by these lines, his work of making art is not simply something he does for a living, it is his life. It is interesting how Browning draws this connection between roles and identities by equaling what one does with who one is. He does this by combining “to be” and “to do” as though they were almost synonymous, implying that the speaker bases his sense of self on being an artist. To be something is not the same as to do something. To be something is to have an identity but to do something is to have a role. However, in this poem, Browning demonstrates how these concepts are often intermingled and seen as indistinguishable. In this case, the speaker’s role of artist becomes his identity. He views the concept of being an artist as not merely describing something he does, but as identifying who he is. He does not just create art; he is an artist.

His belief that to be an artist is more than a role is supported by his feeling that creating art is his destiny. As quoted above, he feels that he was “born” to be an artist. While roles may be influenced by many things and change during one’s life, a destiny must be fixed and innate. The view that creating art is innate to him is implied is the “naturalness” of his art. He says, “I can do with my pencil what I know,/ What I see, what at bottom of my heart/ I wish for” (60-62). He feels that to create art is something that comes innately from within himself. He is not motivated to create by any external forces, only by what he feels intuitively from looking inward. Furthermore, because it is an innate part of his identity, it comes instinctively to him: “At any rate ‘tis easy, all of it!/….I do what many dream of all their lives” (67-69). While others only dream about being an artist, he does not even have to make an effort to try to be an artist because it comes naturally to him as a part of his being. He also seems to argue that this makes him a more authentic kind of artist because it is in his nature and because he is unaffected by criticism. He states, “I, painting from myself and to myself,/ Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame/ Or their praise either” (90-92). He feels that he does not need the approval of others because he knows himself that he is artist and does not require validation to support this. He creates only for himself simply because it is who he is to create.

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