Am I an Artist?

“Are you an artist?”

I’ve found myself on the receiving end of this question a couple of times recently. When the question came, I squirmed. I looked off into the distance, hesitated, and replied noncommittally, “I paint, sometimes,” or “I went to school for art.”

This discomfort took me by surprise. Why did I react this way? Ever since I was old enough to make marks on paper I have been in love with colors, lines and shapes. My free time was always spent settling into a quiet space with my sketchbook. Every important experience I had in my life, good or bad, I celebrated, or grappled with, by giving it a physical representation on paper. Creating art was the love of my life.

And then, when I turned 30, a new love arrived. My son was born, and two years later my daughter. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much my life changed. Suddenly, I had no time to pick up a pencil, my days stripped down to accomplishing the necessities: diaper changes, feeding little ones, and forever chasing a few extra minutes of sleep. When I had my second child I left my job as a graphic designer, breaking my one last tie to my identity of artist. Everything I’ve done for my kids was, and still is, all for love, and I’m always humbled and grateful for this new job of mine. However, I always found it troubling that at this time, when I most wanted to celebrate the richness of my life by making a drawing, I somehow never made the time to do it.

This year my youngest has started kindergarten, and I’m trying to reclaim my first love. Surely I can have both? I sit and paint, and it is bittersweet. It’s wonderful to feel way my mind and body settle as I hold the brush, but there is also a feeling of betrayal. If this has always been such a big part of me, then how could I turn my back on it for so many years? I must not have been strong enough, committed enough, or talented enough. Does the word artist really still belong to me? Maybe I’m just a person who paints, sometimes.

I am trying to find my way back. I’m working on it. And maybe if you ask me if I’m an artist, one day, I will answer, matter-of-factly and without hesitation, “Yes, I am.” Until that day comes, I’ll just keep painting.

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