One of the hardest struggles I’ve faced in my professional life was having the courage to call myself an artist. I spent many years surrounding myself with artists, working for artists, and pursuing romantic relationships with artists, yet all the while, I felt like I was too scared to claim the title for myself. When I finally took the first tentative steps towards standing tall in my own artsy shoes, I realized that all along, I was looking to others for the very thing I needed to embrace in myself. I’ve only truly identified as an artist for the last couple of years, and with that has come some unique challenges, but in taking myself seriously I am taking my work and my career more seriously. In the video below, I’m sharing some exciting news about the next steps in my artistic journey. I hope you’ll watch it and then ask yourself these questions:
Are you pursuing your own creative passion? Do you devote countless hours to your own craft? Is your creativity the light you are hiding? Today I’ll share with you exactly how to call yourself an artist, and truly own your creative fire.
I have made literally every excuse in the world to avoid opening my laptop and writing. All of them! But then, when I do finally make myself hit the keys, the words flow so fast it’s like I don’t even own them. I experience that mysterious force that is sometimes referred to as a ‘muse’, like I’m possessed and something else is making the words come. It wasn’t always this way. Creativity is like an underused muscle. You have to flex it, and then strengthen it, in order for it to perform to its full potential. The only way we can create is by giving ourselves the permission to take time for our art. That’s honestly the hardest step. Once you have decided that your life is too short not to live in your creativity, you will seek out any time you can to explore and express your fire. It needn’t be much time, no more than an hour a day for writers, musicians and visual artists. As little as an hour or two a week for those of us who express our creativity physically through dance or drama or other types of creative movement. Look at your schedule. You have that time. You can make that time, even if it means getting up before the rest of the family to take that hour before the usual daily routine begins.
2. Make Space
Once you give yourself permission to explore your creativity, and find time to devote to this pursuit, you will need a creative space. Perhaps there is a room in your house that you can transform into a studio? Maybe all you need right now is a little corner with a comfortable desk or work table? Find your creative space, and make it yours. You want to have something beautiful, clean, inspiring, where your tools are at your fingertips and there are no annoying intrusions or reminders of the countless other demands you have on your time. Find a space where you can be in your fire, uninterrupted, for as long as you need to be in the creative zone.
3. Don’t Worry About Formal Training
Yes, I went to theater school. Yes, I’ve taken creative writing classes. As I name my creative passions, I’m the kind of person who wants to explore my craft, and learn everything I can. I do not have a university degree. I think it’s wonderful to study, to learn technique, to make connections, but in this digital age you can find everything at your fingertips on the Internet. Literally everything, and often these tutorials are free! If you like to learn with a live instructor, in a more traditional classroom setting, there are countless resources available in your community. The thing is, there is only so much that can be taught. The raw grit and talent that you bring to your craft is something you are born with. You know when you have it, because you can feel it in that little spark of joy you get when you are creating. If you’re sharing your gifts, you can see that raw talent reflected in the people who receive your art with pleasure. You have everything you need, and if you want to hone those talents, the ability to discover great tutors is quite literally at your fingertips.
4. Define Yourself
This is an on-going and all-important process as an artist. Once you begin this process, you will be thinking about it constantly, like a reel playing over and over again in theater of your mind. What do you want to create? Why do you want to create? Do you want your creativity to be a means toward financial reward, or do you want to create only for the joy of creating? What do you want your work to say about you? About the world? Who are you creating for? How do you want your work to affect people? What will your legacy be? What don’t you want to hear about your work? This one is important, because I guarantee at some point you will hear exactly the kind of feedback you most dread. You need to understand why this feedback is the worst kind for you, and understand why it effects you this way. This examination and understanding will diminish the power of negative feedback and protect your creative fire from being dampened or worse, extinguished. What is the most beautiful result you can imagine of your work in the world?
5. You Don’t Need an Audience
What if nobody knows about your creative passion? What if you’ve shelved your creativity for decades because you had to ‘grow up’ or ‘get a real job’? No matter. You don’t need to share your talent with anyone but you. At least not while you are getting reacquainted, or taking this incredibly important steps towards claiming your artistry. Eventually, as you hone your craft, and give yourself permission to expand and create, you’ll be so excited about the results that you will be compelled to share with at least the people closest to you. Promise me you’ll really listen to them. Be brave enough to own the compliments that they shower you with, because they will. Meanwhile, keep this spark of creativity all to yourself. Savor it, get to know it, try it on in a serious way. Right now, it’s a gift that’s just for you.
6. Remove the Pressure of Earning an Income From Your Art
This common misconception has held me back for decades. I performed on stage for my entire teenage and adult life, I was the Artistic Director and MC for a cabaret theater company for eleven years, I’ve been writing my entire life, blogging, and writing books. If I tallied up every penny I’ve made off my creative pursuits it would make for a laughable salary. But here’s the thing my talented friends; most of the greatest creators in history made very little money off their work. Some barely saw any financial reward during their lifetime! Even the artists who achieved some measure of fortune struggled like hell before they hit their payday. We are not artists because someone is paying us. We are artists because the drive to create moves us through life, illuminates every corner of our universe, and colors everything we touch.
You don’t need an audience, but soon you’re going to want one. You’ll finally nail a technique, or make a creative breakthrough, and you’ll be so excited about it that you’ll get the first glimmer of wanting to share. Go for it. Keep it small, at first. Share it with someone you trust, and someone who knows you really, really well. Don’t worry about how sincere their reaction will be, or how valid their feedback is. Anyone who loves you will be delighted to see you creating, and that kind of positive reinforcement is exactly what you need at this stage. Never mind winning prizes. Never mind an honest and critical evaluation of your work. Those things can come later, if you desire. Right now, tell your loved ones that you have committed yourself to exploring your creative passion. They will be thrilled for you, and will be hungry to see the results. Share only what you want, with whom you feel is right. Trust your intuition about who to share with. Don’t apologize for your work, ever. Share it only with people who will understand your need for support and encouragement.
8. Protect Yourself
You will offend someone. You will threaten someone with your talent. You will trigger someone’s own feelings of jealousy, or inadequacy. Your efforts at embracing and owning your artistry will be a painful mirror to someone else who isn’t ready to own theirs. People will say stupid things, insulting things, belittling things. They will try to discourage you. These won’t always be strangers, or people who aren’t artists. These will be your peers, your close family, that teacher you had put on a pedestal. They may be gatekeepers – publishers, agents, distributors. They will make you start to lose your belief in yourself. Here is the most important thing to know about art, in all of its forms: ART IS TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE. For every person who thinks your creation is garbage, there are ten more who will think it is a beautiful gift. This is not me blowing smoke up your creative ass, it is the way that everything in the universe works. There is always balance. Even when you are hurting so much, and so deep in the shit you can’t see it. Make this your mantra – ART IS TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE. Wield that weapon like a mantra whenever you need to, and retreat to your safe space to create some more. Never stop believing in your art.
9. Ask for the Payment You Deserve
Every single artist goes through a period (sometimes multiple periods) where the creative fire burns brighter than the financial reward. We can’t make a living off our art if we aren’t creating, and we can’t create without the means to support ourselves and our loved ones. This is where we must have the courage and belief in ourselves as artists to discover all of the resources that are available. Find places where you can sell your work. Teach others how to ignite their own talents. Learn about grants, apply for them. Raise funds. Barter your talents for those that will help you take your art to a new level or new audience. Find a job that won’t bleed you of your creativity but will pay the bills. Support your creativity in a practical way so that you can keep creating without the stress of financial responsibility crushing you. Never give your art away unless you are intentionally gifting someone, or intentionally building your platform. Intention is everything, once you have defined yourself as an artist. If you intend to be taken seriously, intend to make money from your art, and you will. Intend to enjoy your creativity as a passion that burns bright alongside your non-artistic career, and you will. Either scenario will lead to a much richer life.
And so my darlings, I hope you will tend to your creative fire. Each of us has the ability to make something beautiful, and the world needs that beauty. What is your favorite way to express your creativity? How were you creative as a child? What creative pursuits have you dismissed as silly, impossible, or frivolous now that you are a grown up? If you were a billionaire, or had way more disposable time, what creative outlet would you pursue just for the fun of it?