For most of my life I have grappled with a couple of ideas; What is an Artist? And why do some of us follow the creative life? In the last 10 days or so I have had Three Awarenesses visit me on these familiar topics, and I wonder what you think about them?
I shared with you recently that I was reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Page after page her insight to the creative process made perfect sense to me. Since most of us humans are capable of being creative (in addition to creating life) she talks about what it means to choose to follow a creative life. For her, it was a very conscious choice.
For myself it was not.
So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? –Elizabeth Gilbert
Calling myself an ‘Artist’ has never sat comfortably. And yet, when it was time to fill out the line beside ‘occupation’, I usually wrote Artist or Designer. What do you think immigration officials would say if I wrote on their form ‘she who follows a creative life’? After they rolled their eyes loudly, they would stamp my passport ‘nut case’. For most of my 62 years, ‘following a creative life’ seems a much more apt description than whatever the vague notion of ‘Artist’ is to most of us.
The only one of the Arts most of my family followed was Music. Though Dad’s love/hate relationship with it left me with an ambivalence toward music I scarcely understand to this day. I just knew that I liked making things, but music wasn’t one of them. The piano and I never understood each other.
So I made things.
Thank god it never occurred to me to deny this urge! I refinished furniture, taught myself to sew, learned to cook and eventually took art classes during my final two years in High School, because previous to that we had no art teacher. Against the odds, and based primarily on my meagre portfolio, I went on to study Art and finish a Fine Arts Degree.
Most of my adult life I have been in paid work with design of various kinds from TV sets to magazine advertising, computer and jewellery; and unpaid creations in mosaic, needlework, cooking, scrapbooking, photography, interiors and writing. It occurred to me about 10 years ago, while attending an Artist’s retrospective exhibition, that if I was ever to organise such a thing, it would be the most eclectic exhibition ever! And so I began to cogitate again upon this idea of what being an Artist meant. I asked myself, what have I been doing all my life?
The only answer I had was ‘I’ve been living a creative life.’
Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby. Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into. Creativity has hand-raised me and forged me into an adult— Elizabeth Gilbert
And so…Elizabeth Gilbert says the choice to live a creative life is ours to make, and do with whatever we will. It is not likely to be remunerated well, or acknowledged at any high level, though some have done so; but living one’s life in this manner, in and of itself, is a meaningful reward. Or not. If it is not reward enough for you, then choose elsewhere. I cannot imagine living any other way. I really wouldn’t know how. To paraphrase Jerry McGuire, ‘Making things completes me.’
But does it make me an artist? And perhaps more importantly does it matter?
The second awareness regarding creativity came to me this week, as I read a blog post by Pip Marks, reviewing an exhibition in Melbourne, featuring artists with disabilities and experience of mental illness. There, with an Artist’s work was this idea —‘when he’s off balance, it helps to be creative and remember famous people who experienced their own troubles’. That idea of creativity helping one to stay balanced hit me with great force.
Of course. Balance.
what is that singular interior orientation that sets the Artist apart from the rest?
the Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself –ee cummings
Simple, eh? As I recall, Picasso thought much the same and we all know what a terrible failure he was. And here is where my analysis starts to crumble. We expect being an Artist is a vocation or a ‘calling’ when compared to other professions. A Plumber is not expected to plumb the depths of the human condition! And plumbing is not who he/she is. Though, I daresay, if one is mindful of the life lessons all work is there to teach us, a plumber’s work could also help to ‘know himself’. But ‘Artist’ seems to automatically presume it is not only what a person does, but who they are.
If we are sentient beings with stardust in our DNA, what we are called is probably fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. But also we are human, with that pesky brain whose need is to categorise things.
Perhaps an old friend, who paints beautifully, had it right all along. He said he would leave it to others to declare him an Artist, it was not for him to say.
And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business. –Elizabeth Gilbert
If that is so, let it be known, I am happy to remain—not an Artist—but simply, satisfyingly, ‘she who has followed the creative life.’
(A newly launched website, ‘Oh She Thrives’ came into my awareness just as I had finished this piece and it seems pretty interesting. Go here if you would like to see some of their suggestions for staying creatively inspired. I thought they were useful.)