What Is an Artist?

I’ve been trying to answer this question most of my life.

When I was a kid, being an artist was almost an insult. If you were an artist, it meant that you didn’t fit neatly into the idea that society had for normality. You were “creative”, used in quotations because usually, “creative” was sarcastically synonymous with “lazy” and “weird”. Being an artist meant you just didn’t want to fit in. Or worse, that you were incapable of fitting in.

I remember when the shift from “aw honey, those pictures are great!” to “yeah, that’s ok” happened for me. My parents had always told me that I had a talent for drawing and for writing; they would praise me, and tell everyone they knew that I was “quite the artist”.

That is…until high school. Suddenly, it was time to look for colleges and that praise ebbed and receded. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that it was their attempt at dissuading me from a career that they had already deemed a waste of time. When I expressed interest in becoming an artist, my parents and grandparents all told me that I was being foolish. Artists don’t make any money and no one will take you seriously seemed to be their go-to propaganda. I was young, and I valued their opinion, so I went to school for business management; a bill I’m still paying, even though I dropped out a quarter of the way through because I hated it so much.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to advise someone that their expectations for the future might not be realistic; I value that kind of honesty, even if I don’t always take the advice. What isn’t ok is encouraging someone to fight something in themselves that makes them happy and that brings joy to others just because failure might be an option.

An artist is someone who is very use to failure. Artists regularly face judgement, rejection, negativity; I daresay more so than other “normal” career paths. If you’re an abstract artist, you will constantly face comments like I could have done that. If you are an oil painter, you will face criticism about your techniques. If you are writer, you will be faced with comments about your grammar, your spelling, and your content. Some people will give you constructive criticism along the way, but many will be negative just because they can’t handle someone being successful at such a subjective career.

Here is my advice to you, whether you are a new artist, a seasoned artist or somewhere in between:

Don’t give up. There are billions of people on this planet right now, and I can guarantee that at least one of them will like what you have to paint, to draw, to write. As artists, we have the privilege and the burden of expressing our inner most fears, our deepest hurts and our greatest joys visually. We can pull images from the depths of our minds and manifest them on canvas. We can use the ancient magic of language to weave words into pictures people can read. Using this creative magic, we can bring happiness, we can bring fear, we can transport someone into our minds momentarily. What we do as artists is the most primordial sorcery there is, and even if everyone tells you that what you’re doing is weird, or “bad” or a waste of time, don’t listen.

We are all artists.

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