I am an Artist–Am I an Artist?

I hope you’ll indulge me in a moment of self-reflection—I have come to appreciate that it is a powerful tool that we do not utilize as much as we should.  Answering questions about art and the artistic process for my last post made me take a more critical look at myself.

After I graduated from college last year, I have struggled to schedule enough time for myself to create art.  A full-time job, whatever it is and whether or not the work itself is easy, takes a lot of time and energy.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but by the time you get home from work for the day and by the time it is the weekend, you are tired and sometimes want nothing more than to rest.  I have found myself in this trap week after week more often than I care to admit.  The thing about painting is that it is not like many other forms of making art, or other past times like reading or watching TV—you have to be able to dedicate large chunks of time for it.  Well, it can be different for other painters, but for me I need several hours, or at least the option of several hours of uninterrupted time to paint.  When the paint is fresh and wet, you have to get a certain amount done at that time and it cannot wait.  At the same time, at other stages of painting you do have to wait for the paint to dry before continuing.

As a student, I had classes that scheduled time for painting for me and made it a priority to schedule on my time table as well.  When I was doing my thesis, scheduling the time to paint was entirely my responsibility.  But I also had large chunks of time available to work. Having large amounts of time and the flexibility to choose when and how long to paint, as allowed by the painting process, was a luxury I now realize I took for granted.  With a full time job, you have firmly set hours.  Creative work does not really function best under rigid time constraints.  At the very least, I know I usually spend long hours in the studio late at night, unaware of the time.  When I have to wake up early for work the next day, I do not feel at liberty to allow myself to work like that in my studio.

To be quite honest, I have not been as happy as I was when I was still in college at Wellesley.  I worked incredibly hard, was usually sleep-deprived, and often barely keeping up with the work I had to do, but I took pride in my work and felt accomplished.  Working on my thesis was the most challenged I have been artistically and personally, but I would go back to it in a heartbeat because it also made me the most fulfilled.

Since I graduated and have not been producing as much as I was during my thesis year, I have been questioning my identity as an artist.  I have identified as an artist for long time now, but if I am not producing much work, am I still justified in calling myself an artist?  Who am I and what am I doing with my life if I’m not making art?  Sure, other artists go through periods of producing little to no work, but they are still artists because they have established careers, and I do not.  These and similar thoughts and self-doubts have been nagging at the back and sometimes rushing to the front of my mind for months.

I knew that not making much art was contributing very significantly to my unhappiness.  But it was not until I wrote my last post that I properly labelled what my feelings and self-doubts were—a miniature identity crisis every time it became too long since I worked in the studio.  Looking back on it now it seems so obvious, but I suppose that is part of the power of correctly defining the problems you encounter.  Once you properly, fully identify them, it empowers you to find the solution.

I now realize how vital it is for my well-being to make sure I paint with enough frequency.  It is not a mere past-time, but it is a core part of who I am.  I am an artist.  I am a painter.  I am still going to have moments where I doubt this, and it is still going to pose a challenge for me to schedule enough time to create art.  However, going through this internal unrest and coming to this reaffirmation of my identity as an artist, I am more convinced than ever that I need to pursue art.  I need to pursue it as my future.  Painting is how I explore the world and myself, and it makes me happy and fulfilled.


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