I met a lady a few years ago. She was around 50, looked incredibly professional, had raised three kids, and recently sent them off to college. I asked her what she did for a living… “I’m an artist!” “Oh really? Me too! I would love to see some of your work! What kind of art do you create?” “Oh, darling, I haven’t done artwork since before my children were born. Life is just too busy for that…” My initial reaction to her reply (as a young mother fighting to find hours in my days to create), was shamefully, annoyance and even a bit of disgust at the injustice of her claim to the title I held dear. These opinions lingered with me for a few weeks until I began to understand. Being an artist, for this woman, wasn’t an act of putting brush to canvas, it was an outlook and a way of life. …whether or not one should retain the title of “artist” with so little physical proof, I don’t know. But, meeting this lady did teach me a lesson about outlook and expression.
Some people are intrinsically artistic or creative, good with their hands, and naturally gifted with certain materials. Calling yourself an artist from a young age defines and creates your identity. It shapes the way you problem solve and think through abstract concepts. Creativity is a way of life and you have no issues sharing that outlook with others freely through various forms of self expression.
Other people are highly creative, they may have great skill and huge imaginations, and yet, somehow, struggle with calling themselves “artist” (or writer, designer, musician, poet…). They realize that it is difficult to carry the title “artist” because along with it comes (sometimes self imposed) expectations of greatness and heavy creative standards. Artists have to be creative. And not just on weekends or every third tuesday night. All. The. Time.
But, when you get down to it, we are all highly creative beings; taking disorder and rearranging it into functioning, sometimes even beautiful, order. Everyone, in the loosest meaning of the word, is an artist; feeling the need to express, to hear and to be heard, to communicate an individual message in a unique way. And that’s what art is all about, right? We create to be understood, to explain, and to wonder aloud. So, in one sense, it’s very easy to call yourself an artist regardless of your skills: You desire to show and tell, in your own way.
The rub comes when you understand that giving yourself the title “artist” carries a weight and a responsibility.
Creativity is a struggle to clearly and beautifully express. It is a task that is never done, it is never perfected, and it never satisfies because we, as humans, are never fully expressed. You cannot write a book or paint a body of work that fully encompasses you or says all that you want to say. We are too dimensional and the world around us is shifting to quickly for that. To make this your life goal is a heavy thing to sign up for!
And then you add the societal pressures of what an “artist” or a “creative” should and should not do. They should not take breaks from creating. They should create a body of completely perfect, gallery-ready, license-worthy artwork, or the best ever screenplay, or a whole menu of gourmet dishes… — and at a moments notice (and for little pay).
There is very little grace for a struggling creative. We often feel the need to shed the label “artist” in favor of something others can identify with more naturally during these times void of creativity.
But these phases pass. Creativity is a struggle, but you only improve if you do the struggle.
At the deepest core of every human being there is a longing for respect, dignity, a sense if being understood. What you do with your natural creative skills, and to what degree you use them, is what matters. Call yourself whatever you will, just create.