What are you?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. For the last two years actually. About life, next steps, what I want to be when I grow up. You know, the big picture. I have been many things already… An opera singer, a voice teacher, a corporate worker bee, a serial hobbyist, a mother. I have been itching to get back into the workforce again. I need to be busy. I need to make money. But what kind of job/career/business should I do? That has been the million dollar question.
When I left singing as a career, the decision was relatively simple and painless, as I had been forced to shed that identity towards the end of my career (read more about that here). Do I miss it? Yes, sometimes, but not in the way you might think. I do not miss practicing, auditioning, or even singing itself, but I miss the collaboration of it. The singing with an orchestra or pianist, and singing with other performers. I loved teaching, but I can’t really make a living wage doing it. I have been there and done that with working in Corporate America and don’t really want to go back to that, but what is there besides that? Sewing doesn’t pay either, at least when you’re slow like I am or don’t really have any design skills to speak of. And we all know how well motherhood pays. 😉
So what’s left?
I wish I had an answer. But I don’t. What can I do? What path can I take? Over the last two years I’ve done a lot of ruminating and have discovered a thing or two. One question that keeps coming up for me is, “Can I be an artist?” I’m sure at this point you’re all thinking to yourself, is she serious? Artists don’t make any money. And this leads to the more important question, “Am I an artist?”
When I was a singer, I never thought of myself as an artist. Other musicians were, but not me. I was just a singer. I didn’t write the music, I only sang it. I didn’t even give myself credit for interpreting it. I was not an artist. I have a friend, a fellow singer I met at Northwestern, whom I admire very much. Shannon can sing, play piano, paint, draw, sculpt, and she even made a gorgeous koi mosaic tabletop. She can do anything and everything well and beautifully. I think she is the most talented person. She is an artist, in the truest sense of the word. But not me. Back then, I couldn’t draw or paint I thought. I never even tried. I couldn’t and still can’t play an instrument except for sing. I wasn’t that talented.
But when I look back on the life I’ve led thus far, I notice a pattern. I have been making stuff my entire life. I’ve made music. I’ve made mosaics. I made Jack. I’ve made clothes. And I’ve even painted. I’m quite proud of my subway lady painting.
20 years ago, I would have said, definitively, that I would never be able to paint a face. It was too hard, too detailed. But I have. And while it doesn’t look exactly like the source photograph, it does look like a real face of a real person. I can scarcely believe it. Every time I look at it, I can hardly believe I painted it myself. I’m not saying it should be on a museum wall. I’m just saying it’s not a sadly lopsided unrecognizable slop of a face.
But what is an artist? What does it mean to be an artist? I’m constantly thinking about projects, whether it’s the mosaic table I’m planning right now or the impromptu Halloween costume I’ve been asked to make or what my next painting subject will be. I am constantly creating in my head. My head is filled with next projects. I want to make stuff. I don’t care what medium it is, I just want to make something.
I’ve never thought of myself as an artist because I’ve never thought of myself as being creative. When people tell me I am creative, even today, I demur and say, “Oh no, not really.” But what if being an artist or being creative isn’t only about talent? What if it is about the urge to create. What if it is about the willingness to show up and do the work, the process of creating. Well, if that’s the case, then I am an artist. I have a constant urge to create, every day. I may not create something or finish something every day, but I am thinking about it or puzzling out the small obstacles that crop up on the road of creativity. It’s taken me 30 years to realize that I am an artist, much less feel comfortable saying I am one. I will leave the question as to why it’s so hard for me to admit it for another time. Right now, I just have to figure out how to make a living as an artist. Anyone have any suggestions? 😉
Hi, my name is Elizabeth. I’m an artist and I make stuff.
So what are you? Are you an artist too?