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What are you?

2014 October 23
by elizabeth_admin

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.

Woman in a NYC Subway Car

Woman in a NYC Subway Car


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.

Sample for large mosaic table

Rough sample for my current project, a 3×7 foot table


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?

16 Responses leave one →
  1. October 23, 2014

    For a long time, I didn’t think I was creative either. I just though that I was following a process, a pattern, whatever. And I can’t paint or draw. But I feel the urge to create all the time and really enjoy the process and the feeling of having produced something tangible. Since then, I have discovered that lots of people do not create and what I do is not what everybody does, so now I accept that maybe I am creative.

    There are lots of jobs between artist and corporate. Odd little jobs that that don’t require specific training but need a skilled and talented person. Ones that do not have a title and are not on the “what do I want to be when I grow up?”. Many that involve collaborating between people and groups, which is something you said that you enjoy. Good luck in your quest.

  2. Cindy permalink
    October 23, 2014

    I love this post. It really hit home with me, because I love to make things, and have to make something, or work on something every day, even if only for a little bit….BUT I too have never thought of myself as creative, or an artist, or in my case, even talented.

    I love these sentences you wrote:

    “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. ”

    Thanks! I’m going to go and sew now….

  3. Ann T. permalink
    October 23, 2014

    I am retired now, so my perspective is that of looking back. I have always considered myself artistic, and felt driven to make things. I explored the possibilities enough to learn that very few artists are able to make a decent living. They generally live humbly, but don’t mind because they are gratified by what they do. I have observed along the way, also, that most of the people, who like to create things, are not artists. They love to make things, but usually those things are not of their own design. However, their drive supports lots of artists, who do make their own designs. For example, there is a big business in selling needlepoint, cross stitch, beadwork, knitting, and sewing patterns and kits. Before retirement, I relied on my law degree to support myself. Afterward, for many years, I sold patterns and kits for my original beadwork designs, and taught a few workshops. I made more money practicing law, but I felt more gratified by the beadwork, which did not pay nearly as well. This was before blogging became a business format. I sincerely believe that you can make a good living sharing your creative process and your art through your blog. The best bloggers have hundreds, and even thousands, of subscribers, and advertisers are very happy to pay them a monthly fee to place related advertising on the margins of the blog. Also, bloggers gain a certain renown or celebrity, and their followers often want to buy their art work. A blog can be a sort of art gallery, where the artist makes money, not only by selling her art, but also, and even more so, by opening up her heart and creative process to her followers, and making the followers available to advertisers. An artist could actually make a good living in this way without selling anything. As you already have a blog, I wonder if this might work for you.

  4. October 23, 2014

    Have you ever considered a career in creative therapy? Maybe you could use all of your expertise in singing, drama, sewing and painting to help elderly, wounded or traumatized people express themselves? Good luck in determining your next steps!

  5. October 23, 2014

    I know exactly what you mean – after my first book was published a friend of mine said, “Wow, you’re a writer!” and I instinctively shot back (without a nano-second to reflect) “I’m not a writer!” My friend said, “but you just wrote a book.” I don’t know why I refused to let myself claim the title “writer.”
    I’m constantly grappling with the same questions you are. “Can I call myself an artist?” “Can I claim to be creative?”
    I don’t have any answers for you except that the older I get the more I realize that the urge to create is deep within us all. Maybe all an artist is is a person who has the nerve to answer that call, come what may!

  6. Pamela permalink
    October 23, 2014

    Hi! I can really relate to what you write about having an urge to create! I have had that urge as long as I can remember and have always had something creative “going on”. I haven’t stuck to one thing though. And I don’t think that I would be really happy having to make a living from a purely artistic or creative job, since I then would feel the pressure of having to do stuff that others like. So, I have a job I like, that is not at all in the arts, but I always have something creative on the side that gives me a sense of balance in life. Right now it’s sewing. There are jobs where the two can be combined and that’s not a bad idea either, like being an expressive arts therapist, och being director of a creative institution, business, gallery, or museum, running an art school, OR working part-time at a normal job that pays good enough to support a creative business that pays less. Good luck in your search!

  7. Sarah permalink
    October 23, 2014

    I read you completely. I’m a music and choir teacher… and always am making stuff. I’m consistently inconsistent in about everything I do… I love starting over from scratch, editing, trying something new, and read blogs at night dreaming of making beautiful things… it’s the process of trying something new, imagining something wonderful, making it happen, and being satisfied with what comes of it. I don’t like to commit to things… cutting fabric is hard, printing the program, making worksheets a week ahead, because I’m always open to changing something if inspiration hits… I like time and experience to change things. Part of my growth as a person has been being okay with all of this… that gray is a place to live and there’s never a perfect answer. It’s good to know I’m not alone (I befuddle my husband!) I don’t know how you make money… how’s that for a pun almost? But keep making, and you’ll find some way…

  8. Joselina Huber permalink
    October 24, 2014

    I feel I need to create something every day. I am an amateur guitar and ukelele player. Sewing has been my passion for the last five years. I made a living as a Registered Nurse. However, the current economic situation is not suitable for a mature employer.
    I am happy being at home, sewing, running and helping others. I could blog, that means I would have to write decent English( I am trilingual) and writing takes a great effort to me ( I will have to mind my p’s and q’s). Although, I could write a blog in my primary language.
    So, perhaps you could make a living blogging or selling your creations at a fair? Something a lot of us cannot or would not do.
    Thanks for sharing
    All the best

  9. October 24, 2014

    Yay, for you! Yes you are an artist. I hope you can make a living somehow doing what you love.

  10. October 24, 2014

    For better or for worse, in our culture, the term “artist” generally means someone who’s making (or trying to make) a living doing art. Obviously most artists will never be commercially successful and many commercially successful artists could be complete sell-outs. I say forget labels and do your art and call yourself whatever you want. The important thing is that you express your creativity (and everybody has creative potential only most of us don’t tap into it in a focused way) and feel good about it.

    As far as work, I think it’s better to work in a job that has nothing to do with art. When what you love becomes your work, the love often goes right out the window. Then spend your free time doing your art. And since it’s easier to find a non-creative job than a “creative” one, well, that’s another benefit.

    Another good solution is to find a man with a good income and grab him — not just anybody, mind you, someone you love. I know that sounds a little retro. I’m reading a wonderful book — The Power of Style by Annette Tapert. All this amazing style icons, from Jackie O. to Millicent Rogers to Elsie De Wolfe, had family money and/or married well, so they could dedicate their lives to expressing their creativity.. They weren’t all over-the-moon happy all the time, but they led very rich lives.

  11. October 25, 2014

    Oh dear… I can relate to your post but, if my experience is anything to go by, I can’t offer much hope.
    I’ve been to Art School but, as I was studying photography, I think I always considered myself a photographer, not an artist. I’ve never been able to get anywhere near to using that training to make a living. I have worked using my sewing skills but the only job I could get with that was doing wedding dress alterations. Which may sound like fun to some people but it was miserable.
    Not unlike you, I’m trying to find my way again. However, whether or not I am an artist (and by the definition at the end of your post, I guess I am) I know I will never be able to make a living that way. If look at my former class mates and at the fashion designers I’ve met in more recent years, I see a clear pattern: The only people who succeed at making a living as ‘artists’ are not necessarily very creative or talented or (if you ask me) even driven. They are really good at promoting themselves.

    I don’t want to discourage you. I know things can be different depending on your surroundings and circumstances. I just wanted to include a warning here.

    Wishing you the best of luck.

  12. October 29, 2014

    What about working in an academic environment in administration, like UCSD? I’ve never worked in corporate but those I’ve known and then came to work in academia (admittedly not many) have said working in academia is much slower than corporate, not nearly as much pressure. There are all sorts of administrative type work in academia, from working directly with students to working with faculty to working only with other administrators.

    10 years ago I spent a sabbatical working for 3 months at UCSD. The pace was SO different than Rutgers. Definite difference between NJ work life and SD work life regarding the pacing, it was so much slower in SD. Also, when men went to formal meetings at UCSD, they wore their best silk Hawaiian shirt instead of their cotton one. Don’t think I ever saw a man in a tie at UCSD. People would leave at 2pm on Fridays to go surfing.

    So maybe think about giving administrative work in an academic environment a whirl? Sign up to get the UCSD job postings weekly and see if anything floats your boat.

  13. November 1, 2014

    What an interesting post Elizabeth. Your mosaic looks gorgeous. Will that be the top to a table? How tall? I’ve definitely considered this artist concept, too, and share your thoughts about creativity and being an artist. It’s a little tough to find a decent niche with working and the last 2 years have not been hot for me at work, either. I did get a better job in September, though so finally taking a deep breath and relaxing a bit. Life ain’t for sissies, is it.
    I hope you will post progress pics of the mosaic.

  14. November 2, 2014

    Elizabeth – I have a thought about can I make a creative living that I wanted to “talk” over with you. I don’t have your current email address. Can you email me – myrna (at) myrnagiesbrecht (dot) com. Thanks.

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