Image note: Through the slog. Learning, playing, and fighting.
First off, a few happy birthdays! My Grandma, watercolorist, Jan Kunz and my Mom, watercolorist, Lynn Powers, had birthdays Wednesday and Friday, respectively. Happy Birthday!
There is a lot of pressure to be an artist. Maybe this is just in my town of Portland Oregon or in my age range (30s), but it's there. Maybe it's left over from liberal arts school and those lovely dreams 20-year-olds make at 2AM. But becoming an artist is kind of boring work. And it takes a lot of time. I don't mean a lot of time during the day necessarily (vertical time), it takes horizontal time...days, weeks, months, YEARS. And I think that can confuse people. It certainly has confused me.
Thinking through all this, I came to two realizations.
1. Choosing art isn’t like finding God.
Choosing art isn’t a simple two-step process of finding God and then believing fully in God. It doesn’t happen in a moment followed by a lifetime of belief. (And yes, I’m greatly oversimplifying faith.) But there are too many stories where successful artists are interviewed and say, “I just always knew I was meant to be a writer (or artist or filmmaker, whatever).” Or “I had this specific moment where I just knew. And then I did it.” Because in the context of the story (this person is now famous and is looking back), it’s easy to assume that all great artists have that found Truth moment and the rest was easy.
You can’t interview all the MILLIONS OF PEOPLE who “always knew I wanted to be a musician” who never actually tried playing a guitar for more than a week (or painting or filmmaking, etc). That’s because there is no single moment that will make all future moments easy. Dreaming about being an artist is as easy as dreaming about being healthy. Doing it is the hard part. Being an artist is just one day after the next slogging through all the terrible drawings and terrible sentences until you (hopefully) get better. I don’t know if the work ever gets easier. I hope so, but from the vantage of the first few years, so far nope.
2. It’s OK to choose a life without art.
We don’t live in a society that says, “Hey, you know that stuff you have right there? It’s enough. And you’re awesome.”
We’re always suppose to be striving for something beyond that which we have right now. Think how that can create AN ENTIRE LIFE where you’re always thinking that what you have isn’t good enough. “I should be a musician” turns into, “I never became a musician.” The truth is, maybe who cares about becoming a musician? Maybe the way you’re spending your time right now, with your partner, with your kids, with your cooking and aerobic classes and volunteering and running a youth group, maybe that’s the perfect life, and while you like the idea of being a musician, you don’t actually want to do the work of becoming a musician. AND THAT IS FINE.
Becoming an artist isn’t easy or sexy work. It choosing art every day (or every other day, or every other OTHER day.) So if you want to choose art, choose art. Do it. Do it five minutes every day for a month. For a second month. For a third. And if you don’t want to choose art, then don’t. And feel good about that decision. Your life is probably full of amazing things, and it’s not worth wasting time feeling bad about paths not explored.
Easier said than done on both accounts. As always.