We love it, we hold up famous writers, singers, poets, painters, etc. as genius and praise-worthy figures.
But what goes through your mind when you hear someone, not one of those select successful few, say the words, "I'm an artist", or "I want to be an artist"?
In one of my classes this semester, we've been talking about how our jobs tend to define us. If someone asks, "What does your mom do for a living?" the answer is typically something like, "My mom is a [insert job title]." "My mom is a teacher" or "My mom is an accountant".
Jobs tend to define identity.
It quickly struck me that this creates into a huge problem when it comes to the artistic community.
Growing up, though we may be encouraged to pursue artistic interests and abilities, there is still always the question of, "What do you want to do when you grow up?". Before reality sets in, there are excited, passionate answers of, "I want to be an actress!" or "I want to be a singer!", and these, while nodded to with a patient smile, are still followed up with, "But what do you want to be when you grow up?".
Friends, family, acquaintances, all alike, ask this question, and eventually we learn that, most of the time, "I want to be an artist!" is not an acceptable answer. As we do, an element of something like shame begins to connect itself with this dream of ours. Our answer to questions of what we want to be quickly become awkwardly mumbled, "Oh, I don't know"'s, or even well thought out alternative careers that would be acceptable, and we may even find interesting, but are far from what we actually are passionate about or want long-term.
We dream of telling the stories of our hearts, of creating pictures only we can see, of making new things that not only bring us joy to give birth to, but also spur wonder in those we share our works with.
We want to be artists.
But that, generally, doesn't pay bills. Being an artist isn't a career, unless you are lucky and sell millions of books. Correct answers are things like wanting to be a teacher, or police officer, or doctor, or farmer. It doesn't even have to make a lot of money, as long as it makes enough to live off of, as long as it is stable, as long as it is easily labeled.
"What does she do for a living?"
"Oh, she's a teacher!"
Much more pleasant sounding than:
"What does she do for a living?"
"Well, she works in retail, or as a stocker, or something..."
"Oh." [insert quiet judgement about said person's life/wonderings of why they don't get a "real job"]
Yes, artists need a way to pay bills until maybe one day they can support themselves fully off of their art. It's just a fact. But the issue arises when that practical job oversteps its bounds. When that happens, the identity of "Artist" becomes clouded. The Artist could lose themselves in a job they may find interesting, but that they have little to no passion for. And what then?
We all know that identity is important to human beings. We naturally find labels for ourselves and others to try and name them. We can have more than one "identity", because one can be passionate about more than one thing, but the fact still stands that jobs tend to define a person's identity. Lawyer-- "super smart", Officer-- "super brave", Teacher-- "super brave and super patient"...... Fast Food Worker, Delivery Driver, Stocker... "unskilled", "college-dropout", "going nowhere"? There are exceedingly few positive connotations to these "lesser" jobs.
If we continue to be label ourselves by what we do to make money, it is easy to flounder. It is easy to lose sight of our art and drown in the practical job we have gotten for ourselves. We forget to come up for air by pursuing our real passion. And one day we open our eyes to realize that we have become lost, that we have lost sight of the surface, and have lost the spark that made us us.
No. We are not necessarily what we do to make money. I may work at a grocery store, but that isn't who I am, and no matter what job I end up in to pay my bills, I will not let it overtake such a large part of my identity.
I am an artist. I am a writer. I am a musician. I create, and I dream of sharing wonder with people. Art is one of my deepest passions, and I refuse to let it be drowned.
We are our passion. Let's not lose it.