One of the first obstacles to becoming an artist, I have found, is claiming the title artist at all. The writer Julia Cameron does a great job of helping artists to tackle that one in a book I highly recommend, called The Artists' Way. The book is well known and available everywhere, so I won't bother with a summary of her ideas. But for anyone who feels stuck in any place in her life, I'd say this is one of the best methods out there to make some serious change happen. I bring her up because this work helped me claim the title of artist, despite all the snooty voices in society and in my own head that say, "Ooooh, so you think you're an artist, huh? What makes you so special?" And I naively believed that once I claimed this title with pride, the little voices would go away.
Well, I was wrong. Turns out this life of the artist struggle is a constant battle with all kinds of sneaky voices to tell you how much you suck. I would think by now I'd be past the point where I question whether or not I have a modicum of talent or something to say. But all it takes is one rejection letter from a call for artists, or even something as trivial as someone's silence when looking at my work (rather than their jumping up and down with excitement), and suddenly I feel like I'm all dried up. And even when I get great positive reinforcement, such as selling a painting, it doesn't last nearly as long as the negative stuff. Why should I care? I know perfectly well my art is for myself. But the external reinforcements (or lack thereof) can affect my work for months.
A friend recently (and rightfully) chastised me for not doing much artwork recently, saying my work was necessary and important. I was ready to give the usual excuses (I'm so busy, it's summer, etc.), but instead I suddenly found myself close to tears at hearing her encouragement. I realized I hadn't worked in a while because I wasn't feeling my work was worthwhile. It's so strange to have somehow made an internal judgement about my work that I wasn't even fully aware of, and this decision had stopped me in my tracks. I know full well that my life works best when I am painting, but it is one of the first things that fall by the wayside when I am feeling discouraged or tired.
It is indeed work to paint, exhausting at times, and it is easier to watch a video or talk on the phone or read a book. But these aren't likely to feed my soul in the same way. I know this perfectly well. Even when I don't have a particular work I'm in the middle of, I need to do something with colors and canvas to stay sane. Just like the saying "you just have to show up at the page," I know I need to show up at the canvas.
I feel lucky that I've discovered this media of self-expression that brings such joy to me (and I hope to a few others). I just need to keep doing it, find some sort of discipline that doesn't feel like discipline that keeps me with the brush strapped to my hand for some amount of time, maybe every day? This feels like part of my growth as an artist -- trying to figure out how to incorporate this new weird thing into my daily life, something that hadn't really been there before in my regular activities.