I have always been an artist. Always wanted to be an artist. There has been no moment in my life, since childhood, when I have not wanted to be an artist. But, for some reason, I have only recently begun to think of myself as an artist. It was only once I was working and earning a living from my art that I began to feel like I had earned that title. And even then, I was a tattoo artist, a very specific type of artist, when in reality, I was an everything artist. I paint, I sculpt, I take photographs, I animate, I write…yet because until my late twenties I did not make my living from any of these ventures, I wasn’t an artist until then. But now, that I’ve had to give up tattooing, (twice), due to the fibromyalgia, I find myself reluctant to give up that title. And why should I? I realize now that every single day of my existence so far I have been an artist, because that is just who I am. Whether I am paid for my creations or not, does not change that fact.
I have been lucky throughout my life, I had parents who were completely supportive of my oddness, teachers who nurtured me, and friends who came to all my art shows. It has been very rare to find someone who didn’t support me doing what I loved, in whatever format I was focusing on at the moment. I think, if anything, it was probably my own inner demons telling me it wasn’t a “real” career choice more than anyone else. I used to joke that I wanted to be an artist because I’d always wanted to live in a cardboard box, but at my core I believed that was the truth of it. Artists don’t make money. The funny thing is, I don’t care about money. Never have, never will. As long as I have enough to live on, I don’t need any extravagances. Heck, I could live in an efficiency apartment, eating cereal or noodles with butter for all my meals and I’d be happy. In fact, I have. So, why then, has it mattered if being an artist didn’t equate to a pile of cash? Delving into that excuse further makes me realize that it was really only fear talking. Fear that I would never be good enough at any of this to make it “worthwhile.” But why does worthwhile have to mean worth money? Pursuing my artist interests has never been about money, it’s been about need. I need to create. I have no choice. If I don’t write, or paint, or sew, or knit, or whatever, I’m miserable. I start to feel under pressure and cornered, as if I have to escape and am unable to. Most of the projects I work on will never be seen by anyone other than myself and possibly my husband. It’s never meant to be seen by anyone else because it’s just a release, it’s just a fact of my life that I will regularly be creating things as the urge strikes me, like having to drink water or blink occasionally. It’s just a thing I do.
I think a lot of the fear that lies at the base of calling myself an artist is because I feel like a fraud. I’m not a “real” artist, for some reason. Of course, most people suffer from a lack of confidence at some point in their lives, but what’s so funny is that I would be doing this creative work anyway, whether I call myself an artist or not. So what is it about the word that I’m so afraid of? And is that something I will ever get over? Will I ever feel that I’m good enough at any of these endeavors that I will have earned that title? And that’s just it, I feel like I need to earn it. But this is all subjective, there is no objective basis to judge whether someone is an artist. The way I used to explain my frustration about this fear to people was to tell them about my husband. My husband is a swimmer, he used to compete and at the end of every meet he knew how well he did, it was right up there on the board in lights. At the end of the day, he’d go home, exhausted, hair sticking up at all angles, smelling of chlorine, and at no point would he question if he was a swimmer. Not only did he know he was a swimmer, but he knew how good he was, in comparison to his peers. There’s simply no way to do that with artists. Oh sure, there are competitions and gallery showings and all of that, but at the end of the day, if people don’t like your artwork, don’t buy your artwork, does that mean you aren’t an artist? No, of course not. But, try telling that to your inner voice.
Your inner voice is an asshole. It’s just that simple, it never has anything good to say, and it’s partly because part of being an artist means you face rejection constantly. So, of course your inner voice thinks it’s right in being an asshole, it’s only telling you the truth. Even when your work is liked, it is still critiqued, and in my youth this was torture, not taking critiques personally was impossible. You put your heart and soul into a piece and then give it to people and say, “Here! Take this and tell me every single thing that is wrong with it!” And they do. At length. Your work is an extension of you, it feels like you’ve literally hung yourself up on the wall for examination and you are, for some insane reason, asking for people to criticize it. You grow thick skin and try to remember that they aren’t saying these things about you but about your work. That they mean these things to help, not hinder. Doesn’t matter, that piece is your baby, you’ve nurtured it, fed it, shaped it, watched it grow. Your work is you. So those critiques, though, (hopefully), well-meaning, team up with your inner voice and become failures instead. Which your inner voice loves pointing out, day and night. Even when you have an unequivocal success, your inner voice knows exactly how to smother any positivity you draw from it. For me my biggest success has been my biggest stumbling block, it is a painting I did in college. I worked months on this huge painting, a portrait in oils that I obsessed over, reworking every tiny detail until I finally felt I was pleased with the results. And it’s good, if I do say so myself. At the end of that year it was in a competition and I won, outside sources agreed, it was good. I should be happy, I should be proud. And I was, for a short while. But then, that lovely asshole spoke up and said, “Oh no, what if that’s the best you’ll ever do? What if it’s all downhill from here?” Thanks, guy. Just what I needed. So, ever since that painting I haven’t finished one real painting. I’ve done little hobby paintings, but nothing just purely for the love of painting. For the art of it. And the longer it’s been since then, the scarier it gets. It’s only recently that I’ve fully embraced the ten thousand hours idea, that with practice you master skills, no matter what, if I keep painting I will keep getting better at painting. It’s a freeing thought, and one I try to keep at the forefront of my mind whenever I am facing a blank canvas or page.
A lot of my feelings about my creative life have changed recently because I’ve been able to take time to pursue these interests. Luckily, my husband is able to support us so that, though we are by no means well off, we are well off enough that I can work freelance jobs and focus on the things I want to without us having to sacrifice things like electricity and food. So now I have no excuse, I realize how rare an opportunity I have to focus completely on my art and I want to take full advantage of it. My writing and beginning this blog is a part of that as well, it actually stemmed from a conversation with my father a while back. He mentioned that he had always thought I would grow up to be a writer and I looked at him, shocked. This was back before he was super talkative so I was in awe that he had ever thought that as well as that he was telling me. I asked him why he felt that way and it was his turn to look shocked. “Because you were always writing and winning awards for your writing. You even went on tv because of it!” And he was right, I had at one point written a piece that won an award and led to me being interviewed and reading it on television. But I had completely blocked that out. Or maybe blocked out isn’t the right term. I minimalized it. I thought that everyone had that experience, like getting a participation award. But his comments led to some memory searching and I realized, he had a point. I had stacks of my writing, notebooks, diskettes, print-outs. Tons of my work, in English and Spanish, that had been very well received. I had won different awards, been published a bunch of times, all the way through my college years. Yet, I never really considered myself a writer. And I honestly have no idea why I didn’t. I read voraciously, generally finishing a couple books a week. I respect writers to a ridiculous degree, but yet, I never considered really focusing on following that career path. It’s like this strange, selective insanity. Because my soul is so happy doing these things, they can’t be legitimate things to do with my life.
So, I’ve decided to stop worrying so much on the titles and focus on what I love. Whether that leads to paintings that sell, or published novels, or even just an etsy store, I don’t think I really care. I love the idea that people would like what I have to make, would read what I have to say, but, at the end of the day I’m going to make these things and write these words even if I’m the only one who will ever look at them. And you know what? I’m pretty sure that makes me an artist, whether that evil inner voice agrees or not.