When Are You Actually an Artist?

The topic of this very website came up at work – at my day job. One of my co-workers asked me:

“Who said you could do that? Who’s letting you do that?”.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Write. On the Internet,” she replied.

I said I could do that. I’m letting me do that.”

There comes a point in every creative person’s life when they need to decide what they are. About 20 years ago, I decided I was a knitter. It’s not that I was good at it, but I enjoyed it. After finishing my first project, I asked my Dad what he thought it was. After some thought, he replied: “A Kleenex cosy with points?” It was a slipper. He wasn’t wrong. It looked like a Kleenex cosy with points. Undeterred, I knitted on. I knitted rectangles for years. Practicing. It was never about making money, or if I could sell my knitting, or even if I made anything particularly useful. For the longest time, I did it only because I enjoyed the process of knitting. Eventually, I was able to knit items that were useful, and even saleable. But I was a knitter from the moment I picked up the needles.

Consider Vincent VanGogh. In his career, he produced 2,100 artworks. He was an artist because he produced art. If the measure of an artist is how the public receives the art, Vincent only managed to sell one painting while he was alive. Was he a failure? No. Was he an artist? Yes. Why did he paint? Obviously, not for acclaim. He painted because he needed to. He painted because he had something to say.

I’m not saying everyone who attempts their preferred art form will be a VanGogh. That’s not what it’s about anyway. Creation itself is a revolutionary act. To look at the world and think of something that doesn’t exist, and then make that happen – is a revolution. Unless you’re trying to make a living at your particular art form, the public perception of it doesn’t matter, and nothing squelches the creative impulse like criticism. Like Ru Paul likes to say: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Let that critic fall away, especially if it’s an inner critic.

If you want to be a painter, the only requirement is that you paint.

If you want to be a knitter, the only requirement is that you knit.

If you want to be a writer, the only requirement is that you write.

So, I say to my coworker, this has been a long answer to a short question. I am a writer because I say so. Because I work to get better at it every day. Because I’m doing the thing.

What thing do you need to be doing? Do the thing. Create. Now. The world so desperately needs it.

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