How to Know You Are An Artist
You know you’re an artist when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a painting. Or when your first thought in the morning is that you absolutely must get back to the studio to correct or enhance a section of a painting you’ve been working on. I can’t think of anything that captures my attention as much as painting, with the exception, perhaps, of writing. Though words, like paint, are colorful tools, and writing instructors teach us to “paint a picture” for the reader, expressing myself with paint on canvas gives me access to a viewers imagination in a subconscious, visceral way. As a painter, my moods and drives seen in my work are interpreted by the viewer in a way not easily predicted, especially in the case of abstract art. So I begin to wonder, how will my middle-of-the-night impulse or my early morning drive for perfection make a difference? How will this painting “read” when standing back from it or up close? Ultimately, will my painting resonate with anyone else?
The impulse to express myself is an impulse to lay myself bare to anyone who sees my work. One’s personality is on the canvas, just like a writer’s “voice” is on paper. My very brush strokes tell the story of whether or not I was feeling loose or free, angry or bold, quiet or contained. After a period of months and years, a painter’s unique style becomes evident. The more we understand about art, the more we are able to read these signs in our art and the art of others. Nonetheless, we may not strike the same chord with our audience. What I paint with abandonment may appear to be carefully planned. I am sometimes chagrined that someone thinks one of my paintings took days to execute, when, in reality, it happened in hours. At other times, I am frustrated that the result of my work goes unappreciated when I worked on it so hard!
In the end, I’ve come to realize that I am an artist because I absolutely must paint and the process consumes me. I have no control over the time I spend on each painting or the success it will have with others, let alone with me. Some people will like it. Others–if they want to be nice–will politely ignore it. Still others will criticize it, and, at times, without realizing I can hear what they are saying to each other. Once I give up on the hope that I can control a response to my work, I set myself free. More importantly, my desire to paint, whether or not anyone likes my work, is verification that I am an artist because I am driven to be one.