Layer by Layer
…or Making the Leap from “I Do This Art” to “I am an Artist”
It’s taken me years to actually refer to myself an artist. And I think I’m not alone in my reluctance to claim the label. There is something mysterious and wonderful and scary about that term. If I call myself an artist, then I have to produce art, and be good at art and sell art, and make money selling art, or so we think.
Truthfully the title “artist” is helpful because it describes a way people look at the world…not simply as things you can see and touch and define, but in a way that pierces the thin veil between our finite world and God-breathed eternity. And whether I call myself an artist or not doesn’t change the fact that I am an artist. Simple, huh? Well, not really.
Let me take you layer by layer through my own gradual journey to claiming the title artist.
Layer 1—I Can Create. As did many others, I began exploring creative avenues early in life. For most of us it starts with school projects. Those simple drawings led me to creative writing to playing at miniatures to quilting to cross-stitch to clothespin people and eventually to discovering the fascinating world of pysanky. And now looking back I can follow the thread of creativity through the years.
Layer 2—I Can Do This Egg Thing. Pysanky, the layering of wax and dyes on eggshells, is a simple art yet it holds endless possibilities in terms of color and design. I taught myself the basics from a book and found I loved the challenge presented by each new egg. Even the failures provided valuable lessons as I honed my craft.
Layer 3—I’m Improving. The finished egg was never the goal for me but the process of creating was. I treasured my quiet time creating, leaving the rest of the world behind. My family got to see those works but rarely did anyone else so years of finished eggs lay hidden away in a closet.
Layer 4:—Am I an Artist? Eventually I began to give away some of these treasured creations to family and close friends. I was so used to seeing these eggs and thinking them commonplace, that the response they evoked surprised me. It made me realize that in sharing my work, I not only gave pleasure to others, I felt incredibly blessed as well. Gradually I let others into the private world of my art, and with much prodding from other artist friends, I “went public” with a solo show at the Art & Soul Gallery in 2006. Developing a website seemed like a reasonable next step but it took years and much hand-holding. Making the eggs is easy, marketing myself and my work is not.
Layer 5—I Am an Artist…I Think. By releasing my work to the world at large, I opened myself to praise and to criticism. This is where real and imagined fears come to the surface and they can paralyze an artist. I know, I’ve been there. And sometimes I’m still there. Thoughts like these race through my head. What will they think or worse, what will they say? What if they don’t like my work, and by extension me? What if my work really isn’t good and no one told me? What if…? I have to remind myself continually that what people think of my art, doesn’t change my work or my passion for it.
Layer 6—I Am an Artist…and So Are You. Having come this far, I sometimes have the privilege of seeing and encouraging other fledgling artists in their own journeys. Being an artist is mostly a solo gig. There’s no getting around the hard, often solitary work it takes to produce art. But because of that, there is great need for community among artists, for standing shoulder to shoulder, for walking together, for helping others to see themselves as God-created artists. Whether we practice our art or not, each of us is an artist and fellow traveler in life’s journey. How much sweeter is the trip when we link arms and help each other along the way.