To see wheter you’re an artist, take a minute and answer the following, simple, totally improvised questions.
Do you create something other than articles and non-fiction and how-to manuals?
Do you enjoy the process of creation?
Do you create often? (as in, more than once a year, let us say)
I’ve actually been trained as (among other things) and art historian—and I’ve loved the university course (as I very well might, because I’m a higly visual person, too, not only verbal) right up until the point where one of our well meaning professors told us it would be beneficial to go to the art shows held by the local art college (you know, the one where they actually make visual art) to discover brave new artists who would be worth following through their career. I might be slow, but the fact that we were supposed to be the people who work with art, and not in art itself, hit me hard, and I’ve never recovered. At the point of enrollment, I’d already been creating fiction for over ten years, and the idea of switching into a follower of art (of any sort), instead a creator, resounded wrong with me.
Later, when I started working harder on the Werewolf Novels, I’ve discovered that people close to me have been considering me an artist forever. It was me who had the wrong idea all along, helped on by the fact that, when I started writing the Second WN, I was working a highly logical job with no need (or encouragement) for my own creative input from my side whatsoever.
The stigma of the ‘artiste’ didn’t help, either. One of my favourite quotes about art ever comes from my favourite (serial) graphic novel ever, Lazarus Ledd (No. 43, Milano rosso sangue; Blood Red Milan), and it goes something like this: “Art is suffering.” followed by the point: “But suffering is not always art.” The idea, still alive to this day in my local culture community, is that there is no art without suffering. Which could be interpreted in both ways—that fiction is not ‘valid’ (has no literary value, as the snobbish Croatians like to point out) unless it’s painful, mostly for the reader. The other facet could be that, unless you had a hard time writing something, what you wrote is cattle poo poo. And I love writing. Most of my whining comes from other things—boredom, lack of patience, fear—but not suffering. Can I, indeed, be an artist in my medium if I’m having fun while I’m creating?
The quest to realign your self-perception to percieve yourself as an artist is a long one, and one of the reasons for that could be the fact that the current western culture places so little value with art. (Oh, I’m going into serious whining territory now—and I’m barely thirty.) I’m not sure whether it’s because a vast majority of people can’t create (for whatever reason—serious and systematic discouragement early in their lives included), or because of the multi-edged sword of the ‘artiste’ trope, or because you can’t, say, save a life with art. (Except you can—through therapeutic writing and optimism in your romances and a huge number of other, so intangible, so unquantifiable, but so honest ways.)
Living off your art, too, unless you’re teaching others in your art field (mostly children because the parents are such easy prey, ungh), sounds like a scam. I’m happy to know, personally, at least one human being who lives almost completely off their art (they’re a visual artist, an illustrator in semi-traditional media), and I was even happier to listen to interviews and read blogs from people who live—you might’ve guessed it, though you may not believe it—off their fiction writing. They write books I read, too, at least some of them—and yes, I read romance (at the moment, almost exclusively). And yes, not everybody can write romance. But the internet has brought about such a huge expansion of our market—all of our markets—that I would be highly doubtful to believe you cannot find a niche to work for you.
There are books upon books out there to help you come to terms with the fact that, just because you don’t consider yourself an artist, it doesn’t mean you aren’t. A lot of people come into the field of creation from totally different walks of life, and later in their path, and it’s no wonder it takes some time getting used to it from that perspective, too.
But for me, to wrap this rather random post up on a semi-conclusive point, the moment which made the shift in self-perception happen, retrospectively, was mostly due to an inner monologue which happend early in this long, long year which is finally coming to a close. I’ve manage to answer the probably most important, final question:
Could you live (happily) if you didn’t create?
And, to me, the answer was a simple and unequivocal no. Writing is the one thing which makes me a happy person—continually and fully. On the days I write, I’m a much more decent human being, my interpersonal relationships are much more enjoyable (for the other persons!), I’m much more satisfied with the daily grind, and my mind is much more relaxed. Which is quite the achievement for a person who has trouble with concentrating on any one thing for more than a few weeks (one of the reasons writing novels was so weird for me at the start), who’s constantly overthinking everything (and not in a paranoid way—more like what-iffing everything) and who’s prone to bouts of restlesness several times a month, which used to, unfortunately, end up creating real problems for my personal life, in the days of old.
So, I would rather give up a whole lotta things before I gave up writing. Is it an addiction? You betcha. Will I be getting help for in the near future? No, because getting the fiction out there—both out of my creative brain-cloud and out of my personal files and into the readers’ hands—is the best kind of medicine I could ever think of.
Ps. More on the subject can be found here, because nothing says ‘artist’ than the daily NaNoWriMo grind.