Being an artist, trick or treat?

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“Who in the world am I?  Ahh, that is the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll


It’s not something you can turn off. It bubbles up when you least expect it. If you would allow it, it would consume every waking minute of every day. You work hard to fit in to the normal world…family obligations, work, the challenges of everyday life. But, admit it, all you can think about is that unfinished painting, sculpture, poem, or whatever, fill in the blank. You know you are different. You may have suppressed the urge for years. Parental pressure, societal influences, may have forced you to conform temporarily, but eventually, it WILL emerge. “Normies” call it the creative impulse, or urge, the drive to create. For men, it’s usually around retirement age or after they have achieved a level of financial success, when it becomes acceptable to make a career transition. For women, it’s generally when they get close to 40, get divorced, or transition out of motherhood…the time when they realize the window of opportunity is closing. Lucky artists (usually with supportive parents) are able to embrace their creativity at a younger age, and acknowledge their life will never be normal.

There are just not enough words in the English language. It is a popular urban legend that Eskimos have hundreds of ways of saying the word “snow.” We just have one word for artist. And, it is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary today. Imagine it’s career day at your local high school and the counselor asks, “How many of you know what an artist does?” Seems like an easy question, your hand pops up, we can pretty much all agree artists create things, books, music, paintings. But, therein lies the problem. The question should not be what an artist does, but, rather what an artist is. Most of us, including artists themselves, harbor the misconceived notion that being an artist is a career, or a chosen profession. The natural (and sensible) conclusion to that assumption is being an artist, like any other chosen profession, should result in some monetary gain. Hence the development of the stereotype “starving artist” or struggling artist, both terms refer to the lack of income artists are notorious for. The two words starving and artist have been so inextricably woven together that our collective consciousness can no longer define the word artist, without including the connotation that artists will always be deprived financially. The myth also conveniently includes the artist finally achieving financial success, but only after death. But, what if we could separate the notion of artist as wage earner and artist as creator? What if it was in our power to change how people THINK about what it means to be an artist?

It’s a huge leap for most people. But, if you start the dialogue with everyone you know, it may be a beginning. We must get people to understand that “being an artist,” is not a career or a profession or a way to make a living. Any more than you would expect the fact that you have blue eyes or red hair will enable you to make a living. Artists need to redefine themselves for themselves so they can educate the people around them to accept the fact that art making is an integral part of who they are as individuals, it is NOT a job, NOT a career, NOT a profession and NOT something you chose. It chooses YOU.