Artists …and other things we don’t want to call ourselves.

perspectives on being an artist and a creative person.  Beautiful Hello Blog

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.

perspectives on being an artist and a creative person.  Beautiful Hello Blog

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.

perspectives on being an artist and a creative person.  Beautiful Hello Blog

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17 comments

  • This resonates with me so deeply. I, too, get frustrated when I hear others struggle to call themselves an artist, as if there’s some blueprint of accomplishments you must achieve before earning said title. Just like being a Mom is one facet of who I am…being an artist is another. Creating every day, however small, helps me feel inspired. I am doing a 365 project this year, a sketch a day. And just this simple practice keeps me working on skills, as well as using my creative brain. Thank you for such an eloquently written post!

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  • Yes to this! I find that a common response that I get is “where is your work shown?” or “where are you published?” or “what have you sold?”. There is an undercurrent of “only call yourself an artist if you are doing it for lots of money”. Don’t get me wrong – money is a good thing! But to use that as the barometer of who is and who isn’t an artist ends up limiting people. Ends up stifling their creative impulses (I can’t make “that”, no one will buy it).

    Finally, the model of the artist is the lone wolf working 24/7 on their art while someone else manages the day-to-day for them. There aren’t many role models of artists AND parents or artists AND friends – it’s not an either/or. At least it shouldn’t be.

    For those of us who have productive times and fallow times and times where it’s on the back burner because family or life calls, we’re breaking new ground.

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  • I completely agree with you. As a writer, I often get annoyed by people who call themselves writers who don’t spend their entire lives trying to fit in the time to write (as I do), but maybe that’s because they are Creatives in their own right. One day we will all be proud to call ourselves Artists.

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  • Great post! This hits me deep seeing as these things are what I’ve been struggling with in the past few years. Coming to terms with even though I may be living in a whirlwind and my creativity wasn’t always produced into something tangible. I was/am still a creative. Always evolving.

    Findyoursilence.wordpress.com

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    • It’s interesting, often, when you give yourself an “ambitious” label you grow into what your opinion of a successful ___ looks like and what kind of work they produce.

      You’ve got this and I can tell you’re off to a smashing start!

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  • Totally agree with you. I often hesitate to wear the title, fearing that I’m not original, skilled, or… weird enough. Furthermore, when it’s not your full-time occupation, people seem to have trouble identifying YOU as an artist. Strange, isn’t it?

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  • I totally agree with you. I, personally, struggled to call myself an artist for many years, even though ever since I can remember it is the only thing I ever wanted to be. I even studied art and art history and could still not bring myself to call myself an artist. I did eventually realise that it is because I felt the label required me to be successful. Then I had to ask: ‘Successful in whose eyes?’ I am finally happy to call myself an artist. Now that I have less ‘free’ time than ever before in my life. (I have a 2 and 4 year old) I paint or draw every day and sleep very little and drink way too much coffee…;), but I have a body of work that I can hold up and say: ‘I am an artist’. I might not sell very much, but that is because I am an artist and not a very successful sales person:)

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  • Such a beautiful explanation of the way so many of us feel, Emily! I loved this phrase “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.” It truly makes labeling anyone an artist feel redundant, like labeling yourself a human. It makes me want to use the terms painter, sculptor, photographer, illustrator instead when introducing artists on my blog– they are all artists, yes, but so am I and so is everyone I meet in one way or another. Loved this so much.

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  • Loved this post. I am a programmer by profession but I think I might be able to justify calling myself an artist with my blogging and Lego mosaics. I play guitar. I took some drawing classes in college and would love to do more. It’s easy to be pigeonholed based on career and temperament but I think after reading this I’ll be more willing to self identify as an artist.

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  • I also think as “artists” we put pressure on ourselves by comparing our work to other know artists. How can I call myself a writer, I’m not Hemmingway ect… So much work out there is recognized & wonderful, we have trouble seeing our place in that. For as long as I can remember I have stood in the classics section at the bookstore and asked myself “what could I possibly have to contribute to all this?” So..thank you for this post.

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