Are you a Real Artist?
My guess is that you’ll respond something like: “Me?! No, I’m just a dabbler, I’m just messing around.”
Or, at best, you might answer: “Well, I think I used to be, I made some ok stuff back in my prime, but not anymore.”
Where does this estimation of our authenticity as an artist come from? And why do we always seem to fall so short?
It’s a concern and a hang up of many of us, that we don’t meet some mysterious set of criteria laid out by an even more vague and enigmatic Invisible Art Society, who determine what “real” art, and “real” artists look like.
(“A dozen national art exhibitions? Check. Million selling novel series? Check. String of Broadway musicals which you wrote and starred as the lead? Check. Congratulations, you’re through to our second stage interview…”)
We imagine that unless we meet their (fictional) ridiculously involved and almost infinitely long list of entry requirements, unless we achieve some extraordinary level of fame, fortune and proficiency, we can’t even begin to think of ourselves as artists.
If you don’t believe you’re a proper artist then, it makes you, in your mind, an impostor. A charlatan. A fraud. Which no-one wants to be.
You end up feeling you might as well give up, end the pretense, pack up your art and go home.
But here’s the crucial fact, and the sad truth that we so easily overlook.
There’s only one way any of us can be an impostor.
That is by not making our own work.
By not listening to our own desires and ideas.
And by not following our own artistic passions.
No-one else in the world can make the art you make, in the same way, and from the same place. It’s up to you.
But if you’re not making your own real art, and instead trying to meet these complicated, unpublished requirements of the Invisible Art Society (or of anyone else), then yes you are being an impostor.
We all begin somewhere with our work. We all have to learn our craft(s), develop our own language and voice, evolve the way we’re able to express ourselves and bring our best ideas to life.
Your first oil painting, at the age of 78, is unlikely to be an instant masterpiece. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun, exciting, challenging, rewarding and rejuvenating in a way nothing else in your life quite is.
And it doesn’t mean other people aren’t going to love your work.
They will, if you give them the chance to. They will if you show up and create it.
Following that urge to take up the brush at the age of 78 shows someone who is committed to being real, being true to themselves, and to what moves, drives and thrills them.
It shows someone who follows their creative passions in whatever form they take, and wherever they are taken.
Regardless of the work they create, that act and commitment alone is the polar opposite of being an impostor. It’s the essence of being true to yourself. Of being a real artist, of being a real person.
Finding your unique ways of creating takes time. It takes a lifetime. But this is all part of the journey, all part of the deal of being an artist. It’s in the small print, and it’s to be celebrated.
You’re not going to be the same person at 78 as you were at 18, 38, 58, or even 77. The way you see things evolves, the way you think evolves, the work you want to explore evolves.
Your age is irrelevant.
You can be 27 and still creating the same jewellery you created when you were 17, utterly bored but too scared to try anything different. Too scared to actually let go of making jewellery and begin wood carving, which you’ve thought about and dreamed about every day since you saw that exhibition on your 24th birthday.
Would you make the most stunning art of your life the first time you took up your shiny new sculptors tools? Unlikely.
Would you be a real artist, someone who’s pursuing what they love, someone who’s brave enough to follow where their ideas, their desires and their (he)art takes them? Absolutely.
You’d be as authentic as any artist out there, because you’re doing what matters most to you. Because you’re stepping up, exploring and filling your own, unique identity as an artist, instead of chasing someone else’s.
When you next feel you’re not a proper artist because you haven’t had at least a dozen gallery exhibitions, or sold a million novels, or starred in a string of Broadway musicals, remember that there’s only one way to not be an imposter.
There’s only one way to be a real artist. That way is to be you, to listen to what you need to create, and to create it in the way you love creating it. It’s that simple.
Kick the IAS where it hurts. Let go. Move on. Create.
We need you to be you.
Because no-one else in the world can come anywhere close.
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