“I lived my whole life without realizing I’m an artist,” she says.
It’s a heartfelt confession. An epiphany from her. And I feel a wave of compassion. Empathy. I drink up the warm feelings she emits. I’m happy for her. Happy that she’s figuring it out.
But then a few seconds later, another emotion rises up and eclipses the original one: I feel confusion. Am I an artist? Should I be calling myself an artist?
It’s funny… because I’ve been doing some kind of creative endeavor for most of my life, since I was very little. I didn’t make physical objects much — not until later on in life. But I wrote a lot and played music. I was one of those artsy fartsy kids. The bohemians.
But I don’t think I ever thought of myself as an artist or introduced myself that way. To me, it seemed like that was a high bar. A standard that I wasn’t capable of living up to. I did a lot of creative work (I won awards and supported myself with writing and music as a young person). But could I credibly call myself an artist?
The past five years or so, I’ve gained a larger readership — but it’s still something I hesitate to say. Because my work has become popular — but is it art? Judging by my most negative reviews, lots of folks would say no. That it’s not art. Frankly, there are people out there who would say that it’s dreck.
It’s popular. But is it art? I dunno. And there are some who would take a stance that work being popular is actually antithetical to something being art. That popular work by definition can’t be art. It’s too common. Art is uncommon and would never become popular. But since I don’t countenance snobbery and get a bit lost in that tautological maze, I’m not so sure about that.
“I’m so happy for you,” I say to her. And as I do, I realize that if I’m having such a hard time defining something — what an artist is, what art is — then maybe I shouldn’t worry myself too much about whether it applies to me.