Maybe we can have another chat this morning, another bit of time together with our fingers molded around cups of tea – mine has a rooster on it this morning, AND it’s full of coffee because tea is what I do after I’m already fully functional. Maybe we can talk straight, our voices a bit more strident, perhaps, than they were last week, when gentle whispers were enough.
Here’s what’s on my mind. Just now – and probably for always – we live in a society that doesn’t think art is that important, or maybe I should say, a society where most people don’t think art is that important. Most people we meet on the street don’t think about art much at all. They may take it in – books they read for fun or for rest on vacation, murals on the vast walls of city buildings, the music they pump into their ears while they mow the grass – but they don’t really think about art at all beyond what they like and don’t like.
They don’t think about how much time and practice goes into writing just 1,000 words of a great story, or the hundreds of brush strokes to make that silhouette (A’Driane Nieves’ paintings coming to mind for me just now – go look. I’ll wait.), or the hours of practice curved through fingers on that saxophone.
I’ll be frank – people take art for granted.
Which is why they don’t want to pay much for it, and why they don’t think an artist is actually someone who works. Which is why they cut the arts out of schools, and why they dismiss the creative process as laziness or selfishness or downright arrogance — “How dare she think she has the right to do something that is beautiful and that gives her joy?”
Not everyone is like this, of course. Some people pay top dollar for our work, and some people cheer us on with gusto every single time we create something new. We’d be down a lot more artists if it wasn’t for those people.
But still, by and large, art is not something most of society cares about, at least not in the way art needs to be cared about, the way it needs to be nurtured and cultivated and tended. Most people don’t give a flying flip about the tending.
So we have to. We, the artists, we have to be our own champions, our own support system, our own cheerleaders (how exactly would Jean-Michele Basquiat have painted pompoms, I wonder?). We have to support one another – OH, we HAVE to support one another.
If we don’t, it’s likely that no one else will.
You might want to set your coffee cup down now because I’m going to get a little loud here.
It’s likely that you have already had your creative work dismissed, downplayed as a hobby, treated like a craft project a child might do at camp on a rainy afternoon. It’s also likely that some of the people you love most just don’t get what you do. I know. Take a minute and picture those folks. Forgive them, and then stop trying to make them care. You don’t NEED them to care.
What you need is to support yourself with people who do get it, who will give a “like” to every painting you share on Facebook, who will tweet the life out of your new book, who will remind you – with fervent gentleness every day – that your work matters. The rest of the people, the ones who don’t care, love them, support them with all you’ve got, but don’t gauge the value of your work by their response. They don’t get it. They may never get it.
But more than those people who love you, those people who do get it, as important as those folks are, remember this – YOU MUST BE YOUR OWN CHAMPION. Yep, I’m shouting that. If you could see me typing right now, you’d see my jaw clenched in determination because I so, so, so, so badly want you to hear this. YOU MUST BE YOUR OWN ARTISTIC CHAMPION. You must own your created-to-be artist self and live that artist life without shame or fear or even the least bit of self-loathing. You are an artist. . . . YOU are a writer. Name it and claim it. That’s a gift from the God who loves you so. It’s yours, and it’s lovely.
You must know this, too. No amount of affirmation is going to give you the ability to call yourself a writer, or a painter, or a musician. No publication credit. No exhibition. No concert at Carnegie Hall. Nothing outside of yourself is ever going to be enough for you to claim your identity as an artist. You have to do that work yourself.
Every day, you have to choose to live into your fully-embodied, gorgeous, complicated, somewhat lost but determined artist self. No matter what your mom once said about how artists are lazy. No matter what some blogger tells you about how parents of young children don’t have time to create. No matter how much or how little money you make from what you do. You have to own your identity as a creative person. Only you can claim that gift for yourself.
So today, try this. (You’ll want to move that mug out of your way.) Stand up – yep, stand up and claim your identity as a gifted, inspired, beautiful child of God who wants to create things. Say – yes, out loud – say:
I AM A WRITER.
I AM A MUSICIAN.
I AM A PAINTER . . . A SCULPTOR . . . A VIDEO GAME DESIGNER.
I AM AN ARTIST.
I’m shouting it with you from my little office in the countryside. I hope you can hear me because I CANNOT WAIT to see the next thing you create.
Note – I feel like a channeled a little of my inner Shonda Rhimes here, and I’m excited by that because I LOVE her book Year of Yes. If you haven’t yet, pick it up so that you can learn take onto your full person the definition of bad-assery.