July 5, 2005

Embrace your inner artist

Filed under: Art and About Creativity — admin @ 2:37 pm

Quick! Answer this question. Don’t think about it. Don’t hesitate before you answer. Answer immediately based on your gut reaction.

Are you an artist?

If you answered “yes,” you need to read no further. You already understand the answer to life, the universe and everything.

If you answered “no,” or if you hesitated, then read on.

Here’s another question for you. How do you define the term “artist?” Name some people whom you consider to be artists.

Are you done? Did you define “artist” as anyone who expresses his or her creative self through painting, dancing, music, design, gardening, cooking, writing, fashion, teaching, computer programming, house cleaning, managing a gas station, parenting, healing or administrating? Then you can stop reading now and go appreciate a world full of artistic beings.

Or does your definition of “artist” have something to do with someone who expresses themselves via the visual arts? Did you name Michelangelo, your high school art teacher or your best friend who draws really well as people you consider artists? Then I have a story to tell you.

I saw a television commercial for one of those paint-your-own-pottery places. The tagline was “(This Pottery Place) isn’t just for artists. It’s for people who want to have fun.”

I gasped. My head started spinning, and I almost lost consciousness. Did I just hear them correctly? A business that provides the means for ANYONE to paint pottery is making a differentiation between “artists” and “people who want to have fun?” A business that, to be profitable, depends on every single person who enters to bring their inner artist with them is making a distinction between “artists” and the rest of us? Could the end of the world be far behind?

I took a few deeps breaths, sat down and sighed. I had to accept that the advertisers for This Pottery Place were just playing into the societal belief that some people are artists and some are not. They are in a business with the power to change this way of thinking and instead, they let inertia overwhelm them. The tagline could easily have been “Fun for the artist in all of us” or “Anyone can be an artist at This Pottery Place.” Or, for the bold approach, “You are an artist at This Pottery Place.”

I admit, I do not consider myself particularly gifted in drawing or painting. But I have done pottery painting at this kind of place and I was pleasantly surprised with what I was able to achieve. It seems like in a 30 second promo, there must be a way to capture the essence of pottery painting empowerment. Painting pottery is so much more than just fun — it is artistically invigorating.

The term “artist” is overloaded with preconceptions, misinterpretations, and for many of us, doubt. At some point in our lives, someone needs to sit many of us down and make us repeat, “I am an artist” until we believe it. That someone sitting you down may need to be yourself. And I admit, I am guilty of self-conscious hesitation when using the term about myself.

Only six months ago my sister-in-law asked me if I considered myself an artist. I gulped and weakly answered “yes.” It was an intellectual answer but my gut still wasn’t comfortable with the term. I was relieved when my sister-in-law said, “Good, because I think you’re an artist.” It was nice validation, although sheepishly I wondered what she based it on, since I don’t really paint or draw.

Expanding the definition of artist is hard work. I don’t really know why. All children love to draw and paint, even if their paintbrush is their finger and all they have to draw on is a dusty roadside. So we all are born artists, even in the most limited sense of the definition. Maybe the definition gets even more limited when, somewhere along the line, we notice that some kids in the class draw extremely representational pictures at an early age when the rest of us require people to guess whether the green blob on the paper is a frog or a portrait of our mother. As adults, we should know that the green blob is just as valid a form of artistic expression as a scale drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge. But we have internalized the limitations and the damage is done.

If you want to take a step toward fixing that damage, go try painting some pottery. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you move yourself from the category of “people who want to have fun” into the echelon of the artists. Then step back, and think about all the artistic ways you live your life, even if your creative approach to mending the garden hose doesn’t have museums knocking on your door inviting you to have a solo exhibit.

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