Being an artist when you're not making art

Last week, I realized that it had been a while since I’d made some art that came directly from myself. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been engaged in working on commissions and projects over the last several weeks. I’ve been translating other folk’s words and concepts into visual pieces and have really enjoyed the challenge this brings me. 

One thing I’ve always felt is that in order to breathe in my life, I needed to be processing what I’m feeling and channeling it out into something - painting, drawing, music, movement, etc. In the last few years, as I have allowed myself to identify as an artist, I have also unfortunately cultivated a state of mind that feels anxious when I am not making art, as if what I’ve made and what I could make in the future was something that could slip out of my grasp if I wasn’t actively holding onto it. I’ve recently discovered that I frequently entertain a mindset of lack in my life; a feeling that the world will not meet my needs with abundance and that I have to store away my resources. In the past nine months of being self-employed as an artist, I have grappled with a nearly-constant anxiety that someone will come knocking on my door and tell me to get a “real job” and that I can’t continue to “live my dream.” 

I think what I’m actually feeling is a need for some space from my art, which feels strange to say as someone who wants to do art every day. In the past, it has been so helpful for me to recognize and honor these cycles, allowing myself time and space to not set pencil to paper, feel blank about creative ideas, and busy my hands with other tasks. The fear that comes up is that I’m no longer an artist if I’m not actively engaging in art making. Here’s my question: what does it actually mean to be an artist? Is it the physical act of making the art, painting the piece, drawing the figure, sculpting the form, etc.? Or is it the way we process things, the emotional impulses we feel that then lead us to express what we have experienced in some creative way? 

If I step away from my anxiety or fear, I know that my art does not run from me. My ideas, my execution, my inspiration; these things may shift over the course of time but they are not what make me or anyone else an artist. It is not the training we have had or the places where our work hangs or the people who look at what we have made and tell us they understand. I think it is the impulse, the thoughts, the emotions and the stories we cultivate within ourselves that make us artists.

And now, please enjoy some photos of me being an artist while not making art.

  brushing my teeth? yep, still an artist

brushing my teeth? yep, still an artist

  disappointed by finding the most delicious non-caffeinated beverage but it only exists in Denver? Stillllll an artist

disappointed by finding the most delicious non-caffeinated beverage but it only exists in Denver? Stillllll an artist

  feeling anxious/excited that my friend wanted to take a photo of me? artist!

feeling anxious/excited that my friend wanted to take a photo of me? artist!

grace engel