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“Wait, so you’re an artist?”
And… I’m instantly uncomfortable. I can feel my whole body stiffen, repulsed by the thought of answering with a simple yes. Instead, I’m tripping over my words, beating around the bush explaining that “I paint sometimes, and well, I do sell my paintings, and I’m creative generally and like, I would consider what I make to be art” … and on, and on. I wonder if it is as exhausting to listen to as it is to explain.
I catch myself minimizing and delegitimizing myself and my art to others way too often and it is something I am consciously working to rewire and reprogram within myself. Step one has been identifying the why. Why do I do it in the first place? What is the motive behind pretending the art I make is not much more than a casual hobby? I have come up with two main reasons: not wanting to be too much and fearing I will not be enough.
1. Too Much
For some background, I come from a family of artists on my maternal side. My mother, uncle, Nonna and lots of cousins from the Italian side of my family are fine artists on a professional basis. They make beautiful artworks and have used their talents as the basis for their livelihoods. My uncle Peter (Peter Rindlisbacher) makes historically accurate, incredibly detailed paintings of naval warfare which have decorated plenty of galleries across North America, including the walls of the White House. Despite being surrounded by these role models and encouraged to make my own art growing up, the influence of external stereotypes made the title of “artist” equate to immodest, egotistical, self-obsessed. And while art goes back pretty far in my family, selflessness is what I was primarily raised on. If being an “artist” meant self-importance, then I couldn’t claim that title without creating cognitive dissonance. The nagging voice in my head that scoffs and asks, “Who does she think she is?” is not easily quieted. A cocktail of imposter syndrome, insecurity and self-doubt keep me always on my toes and in my head. (I am aware all of this is very black and white irrational thinking by the way, but these are the lies I have told myself in the past.)
2. Not Enough
The flip side of imagining an “artist” as this self-proclaimed genius archetype, is that it becomes unattainable. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do see myself as an artist and would like others to view me as such. However, the title does come with a degree of pressure. Pretending like I don’t care as much as I really do is protective. It is safer to be casual. To try is to risk failure and rejection. In releasing “artwork”, you welcome judgement. (That’s kind of the point.) No one needs to be impressed by your arts and crafts project outcome because hobbies are for yourself whereas art is meant to be shared and discussed.
Low risk, low reward.
I want art to be a very large part of my life, potentially my long-term career. If that’s going to be the case, then I need to create art that is fulfilling and that means stepping out of my comfort zone and daring greatly. It is so easy to hide behind the ambiguity of visual arts. Poets and songwriters aren’t as lucky because language is clear and direct and scary and confrontational. They choose to expose themselves to their audiences but are rewarded with feeling understood. I have spent a long time leaving the meaning of my art up to the viewer’s interpretation because to articulate what my artwork meant to me felt too intimate and personal, embarrassing and potentially obnoxious. I am done pretending like it’s not “that deep” because it IS “that deep”! Everything is “that deep” … I’m a water sign!! I want people to know MY meaning now, and I intend on explaining that through this platform even if it is uncomfortable or scary or might make some people roll their eyes, because some people will get it and that’s what I really care about. It’s about to get pretty personal up in here...
(If you know me well, you know I like to express myself through a good voice note and intonation is everything, so if you feeling overwhelmed by the length of this blog post, you can listen instead!)