There are people falling all over themselves to say what an artist’s life is. Subtle or sledgehammer, the wish to define you is strong. I heard a new one this weekend, on a podcast I sometimes listen to in the studio. The host identified an artist, then said, “She has a very artistic life.”
Of course, I wanted to see it. Oh good, I thought. I can find out what one of those is and maybe I can have one too. So I checked the artist out.
This artist lives in a house that’s purple on the outside and has an interior painted every colour of the rainbow. There are winged creatures and inspirational sayings on every surface, including in the garden. Her drawings are bright and whimsical and she turns them into colouring books, inspiration cards, and journals. These, plus her workshops, help other women find their own personal creative magic spark. Her testimonials are loving.
According to this artist’s website, “She works in a rush of artistic energy, painting not only on paper and canvas, but on whatever object falls beneath her gaze. She feasts on gorgeous bright colours and glitter and sunshine and joy, producing delightfully playful images filled with naivete and charm, poignant meaningful observations, wild patterns and colours. [Her] art and life have become inseparable, her whole home has become an example of her creative energy.”
This is so far from my life that if this is what an artistic life is, I might as well quit now. My house is too ordinary. When I had the kitchen re-done a few years ago, I made sure it came out white. Nothing I make is whimsical. And while there’s lots of art on the walls, most of it was made by other people. Now I know better – I should have painted every room in a different colour and made sure to only display my own work. As far as working in a rush of artistic energy goes, like most artists, I balance art time with making a living time and contributing to my community time and time for making food and keeping the house and getting in supplies and taking back library books and being with friends and family. There are days when I have hardly any energy at all.
Sometimes we know it’s nonsense. There is no “very artistic life”. You’re an artist and you have the artistic life you have. But nonetheless, in addition to balancing the making of art and the making of life, most artists also balance a constant fear that we’re not making enough, doing enough, changing enough, getting enough recognition, or being good enough at any of it. Some of us stop being artists because the balance fails.
So do yourself this one favour. Don’t compare. There’s a phrase: “comparing your inside with someone else’s outside.” I’d add, especially as promoted on websites and social media. There’s always another story. Maybe the story truly is that this artist’s art and life have become inseparable. Maybe the story is that the purple house needs painting and she’d really like to get rid of all that whimsy and have something calm but sales of the inspiration haven’t been so good lately and she’s not sure she can pay for her website hosting, never mind buy the exterior latex needed to start over.
I don’t know. None of us do. But if you have the choice of taking to heart someone else’s version of what a life should be like or trusting to your own, I’m pretty sure trust will do more good in the long run.
How are you trusting in your artistic life?
This article was originally published as a blog post in 2016 and has been updated for 2021. If you’d like to know when more articles for your artistic inspiration are published, please click here.