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For the past few years, Kristin Anderson has managed Yosemite Conservancy’s art activities in Yosemite Valley. In addition to planning seasons of creativity-packed programming and working with the professional artists who volunteer as our guest instructors, she oversees the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center, which has served as a home base for our art classes and studio sessions in recent years.

Our art programs were on hiatus in 2020, but they’re back in action for this spring, summer and fall! For the 2021 season, we’re offering weekday outdoor art classes based in Yosemite Village (Monday—Friday, April 5—October 22), as well as customized art programs and overnight art retreats.

In this guest post, Kristin considers a question she hears a lot: Are you an artist?


A person's hand holds a watercolor sketch of Half Dome and Clouds Rest, at Glacier Point. Behind the paper, the real-life features and surrounding mountains are visible.

For Kristin, art is a way to see and experience her surroundings — including some of Yosemite’s most famous views — in a new way. What shapes, colors and textures catch your attention when you look at Half Dome? (Photo and artwork: Kristin Anderson.)

What is an artist? Who is an artist? This is a question I have been pondering. I have been running Yosemite Conservancy’s art programs in the park for over three years now.

The phrase I’ve heard the most over the past few years, both from class participants and from people just dropping in at Happy Isles, is “I’m not an artist.” People say things like, “I can’t even draw a stick figure,” or “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body.” They say these things to explain why they are not taking an art class — or if they are in the class, to explain why their art might not be “perfect.”

Because I manage an art program, people are always asking me, “Are you an artist?” Whenever I hear those words, I get a pit in my stomach. It’s at these moments that I feel the sense of doubt that the “I’m not an artist” visitors feel. What does it mean to call yourself an artist?

When I was a kid, art supplies were my most loved possessions, and art was my most common form of self–entertainment. I took art classes in college, but at the request of my parents, I did not study art in a serious way. I don’t think I’m a good painter, but I practice. Do I need to like my art or feel like an expert to be an artist?

When we are asked, “Are you an artist?”, we might think of the masters, of people who have studied and trained and dedicated their lives to creating world-renowned paintings and sculptures. We think of life–like representations of humans and landscapes, or of Michelangelo’s impossibly detailed stories painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. These grand ideas of what art is can feel intimidating to those of us who love art, but who left it behind when we “grew up.”

But art doesn’t need to be exclusive or intimidating. Art surrounds the human experience. You might find inspiration in a painting, or in dance, music, sculpture, architecture or writing — the list is endless. The definition of art is expanding as we see more people sharing their art on social media rather than in galleries, finding their communities online rather than joining member-based art societies. Through these platforms, we are seeing people share the joy of creating art, rather than worrying about the definition of “artist.” There are countless ways to enjoy art, whether you’re a professional painter with years of experience, a beginner trying out different mediums, or someone willing to try.

Photo showing a small watercolor kit with multiple paint colors, a sketchbook open to a watercolor painting of a mountain scene, and a pair of hiking boots, all resting on a folded sleeping pad.

Kristin advocates for reveling in the creative process, not just the final product. And you don’t have to be in a studio to make art! The next time you head outside, pack a sketchbook and pencil or pen, or even a small watercolor kit, and sketch subjects or scenes that capture your attention. (Photo and artwork: Kristin Anderson.)

I hope that I can help reframe the idea of what it means to be an artist for the many people, like me, who have questioned where they fit in, in the art world. As someone who uses art mostly as a creative outlet that brings me joy, my paintings are more like sketches than finished products. I have more paintings that I dislike than like, but no matter how my pieces turn out, they all offer me a different way of seeing the world and experiencing the places I visit. My time pushing paint around paper is more important than the final piece; for me, art is more about the process than the product.

My goal for the Conservancy’s art programs is to invite people to come and tap into their inner artist, even if they haven’t seen that person since childhood! I would like people to come enjoy themselves and embrace the imperfect process of creating art. They just might find that they see Yosemite through different, more observant lens afterward.

Photo showing an art class student's hands holding an in-progress watercolor painting of Half Dome. A watercolor kit and paintbrush rest on a log beneath the painting.

A student in a 2019 Yosemite Conservancy art class works on a watercolor painting of Half Dome. The Conservancy’s seasonal outdoor art classes offer a chance to slow down, take a fresh look at Yosemite Valley, and enjoy the experience of coaxing a scene to life. (Photo: Kristin Anderson.)


Find out what being an artist means to you: Join Kristin and her team, and our guest instructors, for art classes in Yosemite Valley, custom art programs and art retreats. (For all of our 2021 art programs, be sure to register in advance.)

Want to make Yosemite-inspired art at home? Sign up for a virtual “Wine and Paint” class, check out our art tutorials and coloring sheets, and purchase art kits.

Wherever and whenever you make art, we hope you have fun and enjoy the process … and if you want to share your park-themed creations with us, use the hashtag #HappyIslesArt on social media to show us what you come up with!