On Becoming an Artist + Creator

Amanda Palmer preaches that art isn’t hard. In some ways, I disagree with this idea. However, that isn’t the point.

The point is, I understand that labeling yourself as an artist is really, really hard.

During college introductions, I have an inner monologue in my head that goes:

“Hi! I’m Rebekah and I make stuff that sucks. But it’s okay! It only sucks sometimes!”

And then I have to pause and think, why can’t I say artist? I take my ideas, and I put them on paper, is that not making art?

The definition for an ‘artist’ reads; “a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.” Thus, an artist can truly be anyone who makes things, even if it is just for the self. But what if you make things for the self that you share with the world?

Growing up, art is presented as life-like paintings and pristine landscapes. Even though art itself is supposed to be a form of expression, there are weights that constrain the modern artist who is just seeking to make interesting stuff and present it to the world.

I have avoided the ‘artist’ label because I don’t always feel good enough.

When people think of ‘artists’ they think of Picasso or Van Gogh. They think of realistic paintings or pieces with huge emotional meanings. They don’t think of a college girl who sometimes paints on the floor because it’s fun. Yet, I’ve longed for the label because with it comes a sense of belonging.

This is where Amanda Palmer comes in again. Palmer wrote a book titled The Art of Asking, and in there she has a passage that should be circled, highlighted, followed by exclamation points, and surrounded by little arrows.

“There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist-you’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”

That passage stirred a memory in me the first time I read it. A woman once told me that one of my pieces took her breath away and that was my proof. I was an artist. But there are still days when I make things that suck. The colors become muddied, the lines are off, or I just can’t make anything and then I second guess myself again. Am I really an artist?

Somehow, on one of those miserable days when everything sucked, I learned the definition of a creator: “a person or thing that brings something into existence.”

That definition has also stuck with me. Suddenly it didn’t matter if my ‘things’ sucked, or if they just weren’t on the same level as Van Gogh. It just mattered that I was making something. And it didn’t have to fit society’s idea of pretty art. Tim Burton has summed it up beautifully:

“I remember going through art school, and you’ve got to take life drawing, and it was a real struggle. Instead of encouraging you to express yourself and draw like you did when you were a child, they start going by the rules of society. They say “No. No. You CAN’T draw like this. You have to draw like THIS.” And I remember one day I was so frustrated — because I love drawing, but actually I’m not that good at it. But one day something clicked in my brain. I was sitting sketching and thought, “Fuck it, I don’t care if I can’t draw or not. I like doing it.” And I swear to God, from one second to the next I had a freedom which I hadn’t had before. From that point on, I didn’t care if I couldn’t make that human form look like the human form. I didn’t care if people liked it. There was this almost drug-induced sense of freedom. And I fight every day, someone saying, “You can’t do that. This doesn’t make any sense.” Every day it’s a struggle. It’s just a question of trying to maintain a certain amount of freedom.” — Tim Burton

That’s the real truth friends. To be an artist, you must claim the title. And being an artist doesn’t mean you have to make pretty things like everybody else, you are a creator who is making things because you have passion. You can paint portraits that aren’t realistic, you can paint landscapes in pastel colors that aren’t in nature. What matters is that you are creating.

You are making important things because you feel compelled to.

Don’t hide your talent because you’re worried about labels. And realize that even with the label you don’t have to make things that everyone else likes.

If you still can’t grasp this, let me help you.

You are an artist. You are important and you make things that are important.

Go create.

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