In the Washington Post (July 27 issue) article titled, “Figuring out what matters in a midlife ‘Is this all there is?’ crisis” the columnist, Carolyn Hax writes as follows:

“Tweak as you need to, of course: Travelers should travel and givers should give and artists should art (that’s a verb, right?). If mere tweaks don’t produce meaning, then, yes, take these recent deaths as your hint to reevaluate who you are and what path you want to take. - - - Your life is right where you want it - right where your choices took you — and that better lighting is all you need to see its beauty.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/carolyn-hax-figuring-out-what-matters-in-a-midlife-is-this-all-there-is-crisis/2014/07/27/d3cceeb8-0c5c-11e4-8341-b8072b1e7348_story.html?wpisrc=nl%5fmost

She asks “that (art) is a verb, right?” by herself.

But both of CED and OED provide definitions of “art(s)” only as a noun.

I’ve been told that most of nouns are transferable to verbs by some of respectful users several times in this site. But as the author is asking “’art,’ that’s a verb, right?,” even she doesn’t seem to be very confident of her usage of this specific word as a verb, much less a non-native English speaker like me.

Is it quite common to use “art” as a verb in the meaning of “produce / create” art (works) as shown in the above quote?

  • 3
    Surely she’s just teasing about that usage. It doesn’t really sound right (but I don’t know why), and I’m usually pretty liberal about such things. My hunch is that it doesn’t sound right to her, either.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 2:12
  • You've done it again Yoichi! In this case, it is not a case of bad writing by the writer; its' a case of the writer deliberately using the word in a playful, extensible manner.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 10:35
  • Just to be clear, yes you can absolutely use any noun at all as a verb. You would, absolutely, find many cases where people use "art" as a verb, in a funny manner. For example, I seem to remember doing that once when living in soho (a stupid part of NYC with many art galleries). We was having coffee and I said something like "let's go art, shall we?" (meaning, let's go look at the idiotic pretentious galleries). So yeah, you can use any noun at all as a verb, often to somewhat humorous/quirky effect. of course, in some cases it becomes common (as in "let's do lunch" sort of thing).
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 10:38
  • Doesn't the text actually ask the question? Not all nouns lend themselves to verbalizing even if English is a verbalizing language. Let's democracy this place. [huh?] Let's truth them. [double-huh]. I think one has to be reasonable.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 21:53

3 Answers 3


It is definitely not common, and just as you suspected it is a play on the previous two examples in the list of "Travelers" and "Givers".

It doesn't quite perfectly follow a trend: Traveler, Giver, Artist -- because the first two use the English language -er suffix to suggest the "actioner" of a verb (an action), and "Artist" is not "Arter".

But this is the syntactical joke being made: A traveler is one who travels, as an artist is one who "arts".

But if the question is whether or not this is common practice in English, then no, it is definitely not.

The act of artistic expression is understood to be an act of creation or construction, to do or make or create something.

The common expressions are: an artist creates...; an artist makes...; an artist expresses...and other such phrase statements.

Whereas it is proper and common English practice to say: a traveler travels; a giver gives.

  • 1
    Many specific examples of artistry follow the pattern, e.g. a painter paints. It is also common for the suffix -or to appear instead of -er: a sculptor sculpts. Which calls to mind a correction for "actioner": In more ways than one can we say, "an actor acts."
    – 01d55
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 19:31

No, it is not common.

In this usage, "art" is being used as a joke. It is poking fun at the English language because the other forms are correct. A traveller is someone who travels. A giver is someone who gives. But an artist is an exception because "art" isn't a valid verb (even though most people will understand what is meant despite the misuse).


No, it is not a common practice.

The question in the original text ("[T]hat's a verb, right?") is a rhetorical question (and a mildly sarcastic one). In this case, the author is using it to show that she's using non-standard grammar on purpose, rather than leave you wondering if it was an accident or maybe wondering if she genuinely doesn't know any better.

Another example of a rhetorical question would be if someone suggests doing something dumb, and someone else says, "Sure, what could possibly go wrong?" (Meaning that a large number of obvious and dire things are likely to go wrong and that doing whatever-it-is is a bad idea.)

Telling the difference between a genuine vs rhetorical/sarcastic question can be difficult, especially in print (the verbal cues are usually more obvious). In this case the word "right?" is a slight tip-off, as well as the background knowledge that Carolyn has years and years of writing experience, and also probably has a proof-reader, but in a different context it could have been a genuine question.

Another example that could go either way, "Fish are animals, right?" It can be a (slightly rude) way for a vegetarian to reply to the question of if they eat fish or not, when asked over and over by family members who have "forgotten" what foods they don't eat. On the other hand, imagine a small child asking--in that case it is a genuine question, the child is still learning what things are animals and what aren't.

Not all rhetorical questions are this informal or joking, but the joking ones are probably the hardest to spot.

  • Right, it's cutesy, at best.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 21:55
  • I agree: "art" is not a verb, and the columnist, Ms Hax, is using it as a verb for effect. If she had wanted to be more "correct", she could have written "an artist should do or make art". Different types of artists do this in different ways: painters paint, sculptors sculpt, draftsmen draw, writers write, singers sing, cooks cook, and so on; but musicians make music, instrumentalists play their instruments, etc.
    – tautophile
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 22:06

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