Artist? What’s an artist?

This past weekend I got into a debate about what it means to be an artist. “You’re not a musician unless you practice every day,” a guitarist acquaintance said. “But what about talent – doesn’t that count for anything?” someone else weighed in.

Some people wait for their annual transcendental inspiration, a good breakup, or at least rainy weather. Otherwise they won’t do it.

Others see creativity as a military thing. You show up rain or shine. You sweat. You practice regardless of how crappy your painting or book chapter seems to look.

I’m with the military, hammering-away folks. Since the age of six, I had to play piano daily for an hour in order to have a Christmas party or a new sled, on top of other extracurricular Soviet activities. There’s something stately about workhorses, even if they’re on their last breath from all that, well, work.

But there are full-time jobs, classes, multiple passions, and family obligations that preclude people from practicing creativity on a daily basis. Are they impostors, then?

True, the best work does come from daily practice. But there’s no need to call oneself a creative failure if we need time off to recoup and catch up on those things that ultimately set creativity in motion.

One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, said something comforting about this. “Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If the divine cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed for just one moment through your efforts, then olé! And if not, do your dance anyhow.”

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3 thoughts on “Artist? What’s an artist?

  1. oliviaboler says:

    Agreed. One of my favorite writers, Jane Austen, took a break from writing for about 10 years due to outside pressures in her life. If the spark is there, it won’t be snuffed out completely by so-called life.

  2. Rosie Noakes says:

    Yes, I agree! Practice makes perfect. But you’re also right about taking a break sometimes. You want to burn, not burn out. 🙂

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