On Being an “Artist”

I believe that we are all born creative.  It makes sense.  It takes creativity to solve problems, make new things, or improve existing things.  Creativity is critical to our survival as species. 

But it seems like there are two kinds of people. (I fear this sounds elitist or pretentious, bear with me — it’s not one is better than the other, both are needed and equally valuable.) For the lack of better words, I call them “artists” and “not artists.” 

I noticed that I have this strong desire to create something new. “Strong” doesn’t even do justice, it’s an incessant, all-encompassing drive. For example, millions play the guitar. We all start out learning other people’s songs. But when I pick up the guitar, the thing I want to do the most is to create new music. I noticed that most guitarists don’t share this desire, or it’s not as strong. I’ve seen some amazing players who seem content to simply perform other people’s songs or teach.

Artists are a smaller subset of creatives who can’t be satisfied just from being creative. I believe everyone wants to create new things to some extent, but for artists such urge is constant and integral. It’s essential to their survival. That sounds dramatic but I’m sure you can think of some artists who died before their time (Van Gogh, Cobain, Cornell).

I hate to sound “woe is me”, but being an artist is scary and uncomfortable. We have to constantly make something out of nothing, and others can’t see the value or potential or beauty of that thing you’re creating until it’s created (and even then many may not be drawn to it). Creating takes energy and resources, but you are expending them on faith that what you envision is worthwhile. And even when sometimes it isn’t, we can’t stop. To make matters worse, it’s hard for the “not-artists” to understand or relate — and I can’t blame them. I feel kind of crazy at times, like a freak. A lot of artists I know seem to wrestle with fear to greater extent than “not artists”, and their mental health seems precarious.  

Moral of the story? Fellow artists, let us be extra gentle and kind to ourselves. What we are built to do, as with all things worthwhile, is a scary thing. We have to make friends with that fear. That’s hard. 

And while we’re making friends, I wish for us to call each other out when we come across one another. We often stick out like sore thumbs. It’ll be nice to have a little commune where we all support each other in our create-something-out-of-nothing endeavors.  Everyone’s unique, special and gifted in their own ways, and our little quirk — this need to create — is one particular way that sets our little group apart. Getting together to share in its unique joy and challenges will help us all survive and thrive.

And artists thriving is important for society, or humanity. What will we do if we didn’t have people specializing in creating new things??

So, what do you think? How strong is your need to create something new? Is it an occasional thing or does it drive you mad? Do you agree or disagree with what I said — both are valid, I’d love to hear both. Let me know. Thanks!