Talk to an artist who trusts you, and he or she might divulge one of their deepest, darkest secrets. We wonder if we are truly artists, or simply hoping to be artists? To become a CPA, you fulfill certain academic and intern requirements, pass a test, and find a job. No such clearly marked criteria exists for the artist.
A couple years ago, one year into my full-time attempt to finally “be an artist,” someone asked me at an event “what I do.” I managed to choke out: “I do art.” And then I felt very vulnerable because the follow-up question is always, “Oh where do you show/sell your art?” At the time, I entered a few shows here and there, but my primary goal was simply to produce. To put color to paper and find a flow. And so I wondered, as I had for years prior, am I really an artist?
That first year of focused work challenged me to the core. I hated most of what I painted. I fought my way through pieces, inevitably feeling I killed them. Some I resuscitated. Some I shredded. The struggle did not bolster my hope that I could truly be an artist.
Nevertheless, once I threw myself headlong into this journey, I could not stop.
This past year, my third year of painting full-time, opportunities opened. A retreat teacher asked to share postcards of a painting to guide participants in meditation, I sold prints and originals through my Etsy shop, and I began showing and selling my work at a local shop, Sincerely Danielle Shunk.
Do these opportunities finally make me an artist? I certainly can’t claim financial solvency. I hope to double my income from last year, but my total annual income will still add up to no more than three numbers. Will monetary reward help me at last believe that I am an artist? No.
I’ve finally realized that the fact that I can’t stop is what makes me an artist. Three years into this crazy exploration that I originally thought would last no more than one year, and I know without a doubt, I can’t turn back.
Makoto Fujimura writes in his book Culture Care, “Younger artists often ask me whether their art is ‘good enough,’ and whether they are called to be an artist. My answer is: ‘if you are not sure, you are not called.’ That may sound harsh, but the reality of the arts requires that we follow our calling no matter what others think, or even what we believe ourselves. When art is simply what we must do to stay true to ourselves, it is a calling.” (Makota Fujimura, Culture Care, page 62).
For me, there remains no path forward except to continue imagining, dreaming, creating, following this calling. Come what may, wherever it leads.