Am I An Artist?

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Am I an artist just by virtue of calling myself one? When I create art, does that automatically make me an artist? Can I even call what I create ‘art’? Why is this word ‘artist’ so important, and what power does it hold over me? These are questions that occupy my mind often and I think are important to pay some attention to in order for them not to become obstacles on my journey of creating art and being an artist.

am-i-an-artist-detailHas anyone ever given you a compliment on your art, only for you to quickly dismiss it or downplay it? For example I often find myself saying “Oh it’s only a hobby”. As if my art is not as arty as someone else’s, simply because it’s not my day job. If I accept that compliment, truly, it becomes a scary tentacle monster with lots of expectations. It becomes a gateway for judgement, because WHOA if I call myself an artist then I must tick the boxes of what other people think an artist is or should be.

I don’t know what other people think, but I know they’re out there, ready to judge, ready to trample my fragile budding artist soul. Better to not call myself an artist at all actually and crawl back in my cocoon of safety where I never risk anything or put myself OUT THERE. Isn’t it funny though, because I have no such problems with calling myself a mother. I became a mother automatically when I gave birth to my first son. I might be concerned sometimes with being a good mother, whatever the hell that means, but a mother I am, for sure, no question. So why is art so special that I feel creating it doesn’t automatically make me an artist? Whose permission am I waiting for to call myself an artist?

Face it, in order to reach our potential and be fulfilled we need to take risks. It’s the easy option to let your fear of what other people think inhibit you being yourself. That way you never have to face your fear, you never have to own up to it, and you never have to truly admit that it is PART OF YOU. The roots of your fear may lie in other people in the past (don’t we all have those childhood scars?), but the change lies with you right here, right now. Stop externalising your fear, OWN IT!

am-i-an-artist-quoteHave you ever noticed that people tend to treat you in accordance with how you present yourself? A confident person gets treated with respect. A shy person gets ignored. If you meet someone new and you ask what they do and they say “I’m an artist”, are you going to ask for their qualifications to make sure they’re really an artist? No, you’re going to accept it just as you would have if they’d said they’re a teacher or an architect or a mother.

If it doesn’t sound too cultish (lol), then please join me in saying that: From this day forward I will call myself an artist and not apologise for it.

It’s Not Automatic – Deserving To Do Art

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From a young age I feel I have always been given the message that if you’re not good at something, you shouldn’t do it.You are only ‘allowed’ to pursue something if you’re already magically good at it. Kids who are good at drawing should keep drawing. Kids who are not good at drawing shouldn’t bother.

We say things like: “Oh I can’t draw” or “I will never be good at painting” or “So and so is much better than me”. You didn’t wake up one day speaking your native language the way you do today. You learned over time. It was most likely an automatic process that you didn’t notice, but it took TIME and you were LEARNING. However, when it comes to anything creative, it’s as if we feel that the ‘talented’ are deserving of pursuing their art, but the ‘untalented’ are not.

deserving-to-do-art-quoteA friend of mine in primary school loved drawing. She was ‘good at drawing’. I put that in inverted commas, not because she wasn’t, but because it’s a problematic label. She drew a lot and consequently was ‘better at drawing’ than many of the other kids. She got a lot of praise for being good at drawing and I compared my drawings to hers and felt disappointed and why should I bother as I wasn’t as ‘good’ as her.

As an adult she’s a rather accomplished artist now. I love her art. It is very rich and technically detailed. She didn’t wake up as a 28-year-old who could suddenly create amazing art. If she had stopped doing art as a little girl and picked up a pencil now, she wouldn’t be creating what she is right now. She’s had a lifetime of practice.

The above example shows how incredibly logical it is that you need practice to get better, and yet we tell ourselves we are not talented enough or not good enough as a reason not to do it!!

On the parenting forums/blogs I read there definitely seems to be a trend towards praising the effort rather than the result. It’s the approach I cognitively believe in and is how I’m raising my kids. And yet… that message from my childhood runs deep. It runs deep in my thinking, and I can see it runs deep in a lot of other people’s thinking as well. These wounds created in childhood are hard to heal!!

When I think back to my childhood I can think of a handful of things that happened that stopped the creative soul inside me in its tracks. My teacher laughing at a drawing I did. My mother telling me I needed more practice when I showed her a painting I’d done (not a horrible thing to say in itself, but that was the only comment). I think every child encounters these types of moments but the importance lies in how these moments are handled. How can a child be encouraged to move past these painful roadblocks? Hopefully not like me, with the decision that I shouldn’t bother drawing or painting.

I feel resentment because of these things that happened to me as a child. As a child you don’t have the life experience or emotional maturity to put things in perspective, ignore the haters or question the validity of a statement/opinion. Especially when the voices are those we trust (parents, teachers) to tell us ‘the truth’. I feel sadness for my child self and what I went through and the consequences that spill over into my adult life. It is very very hard to unlearn the patterns of thinking we learned as a child.

However, and this is the big turning point, as an adult I now do have the benefit of life experience and emotional maturity (ish *grin*) to start doing something about this. I can’t turn back the clock and undo the scars, but I can think to myself ‘Hey, those people so long ago, they don’t need to dictate my thinking in the present’. I can tell myself this every day, and believe me, I need to, in order to quieten those voices in my head that tell me I don’t deserve to do art because it’s not inherently ‘good enough’ or I’m not inherently ‘talented enough’.

I have the power to choose to do this and I empower myself by deciding to create art despite the emotional obstacles and negative voices in my head. Every time I decide to do something creative I am not just ‘getting better’ in a technical sense (i.e. by practicing), I am also growing as a person. I am recognising that I myself hold the power to start to heal my own wounds.