I Am An Artist

ARTIST 6

Today was the day that it finally happened.

The day that I decided to start calling myself an artist.

No longer will I be a hit-counter, comment-collector or praise-seeker.

I have been all three. And I can’t deny that they feel good. It is nice to know that people read what I spend much time crafting. It feels good to receive comments demonstrating that readers connect with what I am writing. And receiving praise always gives me a warm fuzzy inside.

But it’s time…

It took a gentle nudge from a cherished mentor for me to come to this realization.

Come to the edge, he said.
We can’t, we’re afraid! they responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
We can’t, We will fall! they responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire

I do not know whether or not I will fly. But I am certainly going to test my wings. And I definitely needed the push. No longer will I be dependent upon the dopamine rush I get from hits, comments and praise. Up until today, I have published pieces, tagged PLN members, sat back and waited.

And when the number of hits grew, it felt good.

And when the comments were left, I glowingly read them.

And when the praise was given, I felt like what I was writing was good. Worthy of being read.

But now it’s time. Time to write as an artist would. Whether I am telling a story or creating a piece of fiction, I need to do so with the sole purpose of doing it well. Or at least, to the best of my ability. I will continue to grow from feedback, constructive criticism, and introspection.

My litmus tests will no longer involve hit counts, comments or praise. No, I must begin to reach a point where I know my final grade before I even turn in my assignment. Haven’t we all had moments like that? When we just knew. And no matter what anyone else said, we felt good about we had just made. We pushed publish and smiled. Because to it was good. And that was all that really mattered.

This is not to say that I will stop valuing the opinion of others. I am fortunate to be connected with wonderful people who help and push me to grow every day. That won’t ever change. At least I hope not. But it will be different now.

I am quite certain it will feel strange at first. And I may experience periods of withdrawal. Yet, if I really want to become an artist. If I truly want to begin to call myself a writer, then I must spend less time looking outward for praise and more time looking inward for inspiration.

I spend my days supervising and serving children and adults. I try to remind them that grades aren’t everything and that their self-worth can’t be tied to evaluations. But what am I doing? Checking my hit count. Glowing over comments and soaking up praise. Each and every day I work with students and staff members who base their value and emotional stability on their grades, their test scores and their evaluations.

So how can I help others do what I myself have been unable to achieve?

I think it starts with valuing the art and respecting the process. Creating art is messy and becoming an artist is scary. It takes an unwavering belief in oneself. It takes knowing that there are going to be times that we spend hours and hours sweating and struggling only to have the end result be crap.

But all of van Gogh’s paintings aren’t hung in museums. And Kanye doesn’t include every song he writes on his albums. Heck, Harper Lee published just one novel. One novel! But it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Don’t be afraid to give up the good and go for the great.

Steve Prefontaine

Students today are afraid to go for the great. Or, at the very least they are not inspired to. Their work is evaluated based on how few mistakes they make, not how many achievements they’ve attained. Teachers are hesitant to stray too far from the norm for fear of being marked down. And I, until today, was more concerned with the number of hits I received than the quality of the actual piece itself.

To create art we must be willing to make mistakes. To become an artist we mustn’t let mistakes define us. And to call ourselves artists we simply must be willing to let go.

I am an artist.

It’s time I started acting like one.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Anais Nin

Photo taken by Jimmy Chang