REASONS I THOUGHT I WASN’T AN ARTIST
For most of my life I believed I could never be an artist. I thought real, proper artists met certain criteria; assumptions and stereotypes I picked up as a kid. And I didn’t fit the bill. A few years ago, when I tentatively started to think of myself as an artist, and I thought more closely about what it meant, I realised what I’d believed about artists, and about myself, for so long was mostly, utter rubbish.
1. Artists have innate, effortless talent. As a child I believed true artists are born with the talent to immaculately capture whatever sat before them. And talent was something you either had or didn’t have. I didn’t have enough of it, because making art wasn’t effortless. It frustrated me if I couldn’t make something look how it was supposed to, first time. It takes a lot of hard work and practice to develop ability into greatness, but I was too much of a perfectionist to make rubbish in order to get better. I didn’t understand that at the time, I just thought I wasn’t good enough.
The truth is, artists make huge amounts of really bad work, alongside all the good stuff. And then eventually, maybe, they’ll start making a lot of good work, and occasionally something that is great.
2. Artists have an endless compulsion to create. I thought every true artist had a frenetic need to draw, paint, make. Their sketchbooks go everywhere with them, and any spare time is taken up by their passion. Artists always wanted to be creating, and their hands just know what to do. I had the urge to draw and paint, but I didn’t know what and I always felt stuck. Sometimes I went years without picking up a paint brush. Many times I got out my supplies, and then just stared at a blank page. There’s no way I could be an artist if I struggled so hard to just draw something, anything! Artists never stared at blank pages, their compulsion to draw, like a writer’s urgency in getting words onto a page, wouldn’t allow them.
It never occurred to me that all artists struggle with this at some stage. Sometimes artwork just flows out of you; most of the time you have to make conscious choices of what, how, when to create and put in a lot of effort to get it done. Also, most artists have full lives with other interests and responsibilities that divide their attention. And sometimes, artists just want to slob in front of the telly.
3. Artists make a living selling their art and showing their work in galleries. I thought you weren’t a bona fide artist until you were validated by other people buying your artwork. And they would only buy it if it was displayed in a gallery. This is probably something that a lot of people still think is true, but in reality you can be an artist without selling a single painting. I would love to support myself through my artwork and I intend to do so for the rest of my career. But if I don’t, that won’t stop me being an artist.
4. Artists studied at art school. I thought only people who studied arts degrees became real artists. Once I’d made the decision, aged 17, to stop studying art, I assumed I would be a hobby artist. But that wasn’t a proper artist. And I think a lot of the art world expect an artist to be formally trained. But it’s not the only way and there are so many incredible artists that are ‘self taught’. I studied History at university, and went on to get a Masters’ degree in Historical Research, but I’m not a historian. I think it is about drive and intention. I could have been a historian, but that wasn’t the decision I made. I am an artist because I decide every day that that is what and who I am.
5. Artists are pretty damn stylish. This is an odd one, but I honestly thought I wasn’t an artist because I’m not cool enough. I was fairly academic. I wear very safe, generic clothes and I rarely style my hair. I believed artists were trendsetters and confident in their own quirky style. This of course is hogwash, most artists I know live in jeans and scraped back hair, just like me.
So, what do I know now? Yes, there are some artists who are child prodigies; who obsessively create; who make vast sums of money selling their work; who studied at the most prestigious art schools and exhibit in the fanciest galleries; and who exude their own unique brand of style in bucketfuls. But these are not the only ways to be an artist.
Not all artists study art. Some artists wear boring clothes and never dye their hair pink. Many, many artists do not sell their art and work in other fields to support themselves. Artists get stuck. They sit and stare at blank pages. And sometimes, they just want to watch telly.