What it takes to be a "real" artist
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
A few years ago, my friend introduced me to their friend who they said was an artist. I went to one of her shows, and I was really impressed by her work. She was obviously very passionate about her work and had incredible skills. Later, however, I learned that art was not her full-time job, and that she had a day job also. Upon learning this, the first thought that popped into my mind was "oh, she's not a real artist."
Not a real artist. This accomplished person created beautiful work, was paid for her work, had done artist residencies, and regularly shared her work with the world, and I was going to say that she was not a real artist simply because she had a day job? It was absolutely ridiculous.
But why would I think that way? For me, the answer was clear: I couldn't call herself an artist because I was afraid. Because if I called her an artist, then maybe I would have to start calling myself an artist too.
This fear was the work of my inner critic. The inner critic wanted me to stay in my comfort zone where I was safe. It didn't want me exploring new ideas or new identities, it didn't want me taking risks. And it definitely didn't want me opening myself up to the ridicule that I could get if I started calling myself an artist. Instead, it told me that I wasn't really an artist. It told me that I was just someone who painted as a hobby. It said that real artists went to art school, real artists were represented by galleries, real artists didn't have a day job, and on and on. With all of these qualifications, the label of "artist" was always out of reach.
That mindset completely changed when I thought about my artist friend. It was so clear to me that she was an artist, despite her day job. As I began digging deeper into the art world and learning about the lives of some of my favorite painters, I realized that so many of them had never been to art school, had other jobs to support themselves, and had no gallery representation. If none of those things were necessary to be a real artist, then what was?
Then it was obvious. To be an artist is simple, you just have to make art.
After that, I realized I could no longer continue listening to my inner critic. I decided to embrace my new identity. I began introducing myself as an artist when I met new people. And gradually, I started to feel like it was true.
It may seem like just a label, but labels are important. They help us organize our lives and understand who we are. They can also help motivate us when things get hard. I run almost every day, even on bad days, because I'm a runner. Similarly, I paint and show my work to the world because I'm an artist. Even after so many failures and rejections, I still do it. Because for me, that it what being a "real" artist is all about.
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