You are (still) an artist.
If you haven’t thrown a pot in two years, you are still an artist.
If you haven’t shown up to rehearsal since you can remember, you are still an artist.
If you haven’t written a sentence, picked up a paintbrush, stepped into a studio, taken your instrument out of its case, you are still an artist.
(I will go so far as to tell you that even if you have never called yourself an artist in your life even if the idea makes you laugh even if your own child mocks your drawings mercilessly
you are still an artist.)
But right now I’m talking to those of you who at one time readily identified as a painter, singer, sculptor, theater-maker and for some reason or for many reasons or for no remarkable reason whatsoever now find yourself thinking
I don’t really count as that anymore
I used to be and now I’m not
I don’t deserve to call myself that
writers write and I’m not writing so I’m not a writer
or just plain old
that ship has sailed.
Maybe you had a baby or two or three
maybe you got a not-art job and it grew
maybe someone you loved very much died
maybe your parentspousechildbestfriend needed care
maybe you got your heart broken by a friend or a lover or both
maybe you got sick or depressed very very depressed
maybe a hurricane came along and swept away everything you owned
and so you made choices or non-choices and now you haven’t made much art at all in a month or a year or a decade or longer
and now you and self-help literature and the world at large have persuaded you that you are not an artist.
I vigorously and wholeheartedly disagree.
Actually, what I wrote first is: That pisses me off, and I call bullshit.
Either way, I feel so strongly about this because
I THOUGHT THAT TOO.
For years after my child was born, I couldn’t do it anymore.
I need to contribute to my household income, and I want to be home for more suppers and bedtimes than a traditional non-Equity rehearsal process allows.
I was in a staged reading here / I wrote a 5-minute play that got featured there / I had a poem published in one place / I wrote a bit for someone else’s play in another place.
It didn’t seem like enough to count.
It didn’t seem like I could keep up.
I felt like no one thought of me as Artist anymore and
I was ready to hand in my artist card.
I was ready to say
I was that, and now I’m not that.
Now that I’m a little further out from tiny-baby small-toddler caretaking
I can see that I was
You can’t hand in your artist card just because you haven’t made your art in a while.
It doesn’t work that way.
I was an artist when I made plays
I was an artist when I was nursing a baby
I was (am) an artist when I was (am) creating budget spreadsheets
I was (am) an artist when I go to a funeral, go for a walk, pack a suitcase, chaperone a field trip
and so are you.
Even if you haven’t made any art in 17 years.
One of the things I made 17 years ago when I was an Artist was a play called squeaky wheels.
With Tamara Kissane and Bill Carey as both hands theatre company, I created and performed it in helter-skelter intensive long weekends that involved out-of-state travels, late nights, and huge swaths of focused time. That was how we did it when we were the artists we were in 2001.
A few weeks ago, Tamara and I pulled out a little bit of material from squeaky wheels, and the artists we are today made a little bit of new work with it. The artists we are in 2018 made work that involved zero helter-skelter, across-town travels, reasonable bedtimes, and a few short bursts of focused time.
I’m sharing our work with you now via Tamara’s Artist Soapbox Podcast. It’s a 6-minute listen, and I’d love to hear what it makes you think of, what it sparks for you. Check it out right here. Put on the headphones if you’re at work or have children around. It contains adult language and situations.
I am (still) an artist.
And so are you.
Maybe an artist who is finding new ways to make work in this part of your life
maybe an artist who makes work much more slowly than you used to
maybe an artist who takes long breaks between small projects
maybe an artist who hasn’t made anything new in a very long time
maybe an artist who still won’t make anything new for a long time to come
maybe an artist who feels some loss about the way your art-making is less or different.
but still an artist.
I see you with your artist’s heart, and you are not alone.
Hear Cheryl on Episode 025 and Episode 045 of Artist Soapbox.
Cheryl Chamblee is a writer, strategist, theater-maker, and mama with more than 20 years of experience as both artist and nonprofit leader. At the Chatham Arts Council, she recently led the creation of a new focus and identity, including the creation and implementation of the Chatham Artists-in-Schools Initiative. Cheryl’s coaching work centers around guiding leaders, boards, and creatives in times of transition. She’s currently working on several tiny creative projects, including The Letters Project, The Envy Pieces, an audio drama collaboration with Artist Soapbox, and one tiny project more that’s too nascent to name. You can find her writing at onebrokenteapot.com.