On not being a “real” artist

Deep Sea Dreamer by Megan Eckman
Deep Sea Dreamer by Megan Eckman

The hardest part of being an artist is not feeling like one.

Deep down, I wonder every day if I’m a ‘real’ artist. I don’t live and breathe my work. Heck, sometimes I go a week without drawing (though I’m miserable during that week). I don’t smoke or do drugs or wear vintage, paint-splattered clothes like artists should. And yet, here I am, selling my artwork like a ‘real’ artist.

This fear (and that’s honestly what it is) started in art school. I worked in a medium no one else did with a subject matter that didn’t convey a political or social message or a historical nod to long-dead artists. Heck, it didn’t even express some sort of dark, inner underside of me. In other words, my art told a childish story; my art was a joke. A joke the teachers didn’t know what to do with.

I was passed around, pushed toward other media, and told to get ‘serious.’ But I couldn’t. For some reason, I loved the way I worked. I graduated and then, unlike most art students, I started a business selling my work (I have a promise to my business-major mother to thank for that). Yet, even that accomplishment didn’t make the feeling that I was a fake go away.

For months I feared I’d wake up and everyone would have realized and have boycotted my shop. Orders would stop and I’d have to go back to retail or something equally awful.

I still get that fear inside of me when I have a week without a sale. But I realized, in one of those epiphany moments after I’d been crying (yes, honestly crying) because nothing seemed to be going right, that I was made to do this.

The universe designed me to create artwork.

My stubby fingers are shaped for a pen and my near-sightedness is perfect for my love of detail. My addiction to reading gives me endless inspiration. And my overactive imagination gives me the power to create new stories (along with horrible nightmares, but that’s another story).

So, you see, whether I’m a ‘real’ artist or not doesn’t matter because I’m doing what I was made to do. I was made to make people laugh with my silly, old-fashioned, pen and ink drawings.

Do you ever feel like you’re not a ‘real’ artist or knitter or writer or PR person? If so, ask yourself if you were made for it.

I believe that if you truly love doing something, you were definitely designed to do it, and thus you’re as ‘real’ as can be!

16 thoughts on “On not being a “real” artist

  1. Thanks for putting my feelings into such eloquent words! I wrestle with the same feelings and often stumble over calling myself an artist versus a designer or artisan even. I look pretty much like the soccer mom I am but I’m working on my inner goth:)

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with calling myself an artist. But if we don’t use the title on ourselves, who else will use it on us?

  2. This is pure perfection and absolute beauty!

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I totally feel that way too much…both as a coach and artist. I have come to the same conclusion as you and then had to revisit it when the other “fake” stuff comes back. Your putting it out there is so healing. Thanks again!!

  3. Definitely a topic that “haunts” many of us…especially in low times. Doubt creeps up… but we have to realize that it’s just our lizard brain running to hide. It doesn’t last long. We have to go for it!

  4. Thanks for this post. For years I’ve fought against the stereotype of writer as novelist or journalist. I pen murder mystery plays to be used as fundraisers and I love it. I’d also love to be a novelist but I’m working on that. For a long time, when someone asked what I did for a living and I said ‘writer’, I’d then have to strengthen my heart against the response I would usually receive when I told them what I wrote. Not a novelist then? No. Oh. Strangely, since I’ve been more accepting of myself and what I do, less and less people seem unimpressed by my response. I now get remarks like ‘That sounds interesting work’ and ‘How exciting. I wish I could do that for a living’. Maybe I just needed to believe in myself.

  5. You create art, so you are a real artist.

    End of story. :)

    I think sometimes there’s this…attitude…that only Serious Art, Art with a Capital A, the kind of art you see in galleries that no one you know could actually afford…is “real” art.

    I think you answered the question, without any doubt, with this sentence, though:

    Heck, sometimes I go a week without drawing (though I’m miserable during that week).

    If you skip doing something for a week and you’re miserable, OBVIOUSLY that thing is a part of who you are.

    And whether or not someone is a real artist isn’t really something that can be debated, it’s something that’s in your heart, something you know no matter what the world says, something that cannot be denied.

  6. I can relate to this so, so much!

    When I make art, my favorite medium isn’t charcoal… it’s glitter mixed with medium. I don’t paint pictures of flowers in vases or fruit in bowls, and the most insightful thing I can say about any of my pieces is that I think it’s pretty and it makes me happy, and ooooh, look at the colors!

    And an artist’s statement? Statement, shmatement! I like it, so I make it.

    It’s the same with my jewelry. I work with sequins and ribbons and window screen and sometimes even little rubber chickens… not gold. My work isn’t a commentary on anything. It just is.

    For the longest time, I thought I was doing something wrong, but like you, I realized I was meant to create, and to do so in my own way. I think as artists — and yes, we’re artists — the best thing we can do is own our style and love what we make and patiently roll our eyes at anyone who doesn’t understand.

    Thanks for writing! I bet you’ll find a lot of people can relate. :)

    1. I love that glitter is your favorite medium! So unique and fun. And yes, we can roll our eyes at anyone who doesn’t understand because deep down, they’re jealous.

  7. I felt like I had to tack on Graphic Designer whenever I told somebody what I do for a living, mostly because I went to school for Graphic Design. I’m still undergoing my transition from designing to painting and illustration. Lately though, it gets more and more comfortable to call myself an artist because it really is encompassing more of what I’m doing. As soon as you become calling yourself an artist, it starts to take flight and bring you to wonderful places :) ~May

  8. you just spoke from my inner heart without even knowing me. I remember crying one day because “I didn’t ask to do this…I am not a real artist”. I said this to my ex-boyfriend because I was getting ready to hang a show that I just didn’t feel confident in. He didn’t understand…he couldn’t (and still can’t)…see how much some people struggle to feel like their art has a voice. Thank you for this!

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