ast weekend I went to a concert of someone I’ve technically known since I was five, and despite the fact that she’s fairly popular, I was woefully unfamiliar with her music and had never seen her perform (unless you count living room karaoke.) It ended up being pretty incredible to watch, not just because the music was awesome (which it was) but because I was witnessing this person that I’d interacted with in a casual way perform as she does best, in her element, in front of her fans, in the spotlight. She displayed a great command of experience and talent in exactly the moment she needed to.
As artists, we’re familiar with this situation to varying degrees. Any time we’re at our own shows, or even doing something as simple as releasing a painting for public view, we summon all necessary skill and confidence into a fixed period of time in which we allow ourselves to be stars, to lead the room in a chorus of our own making. We understand the necessity of doing so, at least in short bursts, especially when we’re promoting something specific.
But what happens the rest of the time? Why do we tend to put our public selves into stasis when we’re not attached to the art? We still have a duty to be artists, which is doing more than making art. We have a purpose to live artistic lives, with intention and passion. Our lives should be as interesting and inspiring as our art. Being an artist is an action, not a title.
We should, in theory, have endless insight to communicate about our lives, whether we write, speak, or photograph it. We have a responsibility to the universe to explore, to think, to interpret information and put it back out into the world. That’s why people pay us. That’s why they care. That’s what they want from us. They trust us to be creative in our lives, and we honor that by doing so, by thinking creatively, by processing life in an artistic way. Even if it’s wrong. Even if it’s ugly.
After all, we’re each just works in progress. We’re all working toward a unique and complete narrative. Our lives should be art.
Not every artist is willing to share themselves. I personally fluctuate between sharing and hiding, but I’m working hard to give more of myself outwardly, because I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s unnerving to show wounds, but I’m learning to be more comfortable with that too. Not that it has to be gross to be authentic. Even the bad stuff can be thought out, edited, streamlined into a valid account of our personal story. We just have to be sincere with our emotional process, and forthright with our learning and growth. Of course we will change our minds.
I’ve noticed lately that the artists online I’m most interested in, whose work and blogs I regularly follow, tend to share more of their personal struggles and ongoing battles. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s compelling to watch. Sometimes I don’t even care for their art, but I really enjoy watching them be artists. At the same time, I often feel bored with artists who share nothing of their personal journeys, even if I respect their art. It just gets dull to only read about exhibits and sales and new work. I want to know the artist is a human being. I want to know they have good days and bad days. I want to know how and why he or she is really fucked up, and how that contrasts with the awesome, inspiring person they are on other days. If there’s no visible depth, it’s kinda empty.
I guess I’m learning that the art is just a byproduct, a symptom of being an artist. Our real purpose is to live as fully and completely as we can (which goes for everyone), and translate that into a unique form of communication. We have the opportunity to affect change, heal hearts, and shape culture, just by our creative thinking. That’s a powerful position to be in.
Maybe we ought to start thinking of ourselves as explorers.
—Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings