This is my friend, she is an artist!

I’m always surprised when someone introduces me as: “This is my friend Patsy; she’s an artist”. No one introduces their friend as: “This is John; he’s an accountant”. It’s as though when one is an artist, the person and what he does for a living are inseparable.

Me at work

I understand why the artist herself would feel like her identity is profoundly linked to her work. After all, she’s on journey that forces her to figure out who she is so she can one day contribute original, personal work to the world. As authors David Bayles and Ted Orland attest in their wonderful book Art and Fear, “…becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.” And of course, as an artist, one is always on the clock, because everything she looks at and experiences is material for creativity.

But here’s what puzzles me: why would other people feel that my work and my name must be linked and announced at the first introduction? Not that I really care, mind you. I love talking about my work. In fact I’m a little ashamed to admit that I often do it until I notice that people around me are looking for a way out of the artsy conversation. But it’s intriguing that others feel my identity revolves around my work. After all, artists are ordinary people with ordinary concerns and ordinary lives. Aren’t they?

Me at work

This may be a sign of our times, and related to a general cultural view of what it means to be an artist. As Bayles and Orland go on to say, “… in the past few centuries Western art has moved from unsigned tableaus of religious scenes to one-person displays of personal cosmologies.” It used to be that the artist who created the work was irrelevant. Art existed long before human beings managed to over value their sense of self. I can’t imagine a cave dweller drawing an animal on a stone wall and exclaiming, “This is my work; it represents who I am and no one else.” Now, though, ‘artist’ has become a form of identity.

I’m convinced that our society has over inflated the importance of the ‘self’, the ‘me’, and the ‘I’. Social media reminds us of that fact daily. In reality, none of us really matters other than to the people who love us. And although I agree that the only way to create meaningful work as an artist is through finding your own self-expression, it’s never truly new or personal. And that’s simply because all of us are shaped by the world we live in. I doubt that any one of us can claim to be the only human being to have ever felt a certain emotion or experienced a certain thing. So, as an artist, whatever we create is always a result of a shared experience relevant to the time we live in, nothing more and nothing less. Maybe we manage to represent life in a way that is new enough to reach people at a deeper level, but that is as much as we can hope to achieve, and it’s good enough to be worth spending a lifetime working at it. Whatever recognition that may or may not come from the work we do is irrelevant and stands separate from the work itself. Personally though, I hope that time will prove that my work has been more important than I am.

Artists are flawed human beings aspiring to create pure work. Unfortunately, fear is often a major setback when one links one’s self to their work. “Consider that if artist equals self, then when (inevitably) you make flawed art, you are a flawed person, and when you make no art, you are no person at all!” So from an artist’s perspective, it’s better to not feel that “I am my own work” even though we work all the time.


L’éveil, Acrylic on canvas

My experience also tells me that the artist’s ego too often gets in the way of the creative process. The best way to create is to remove all preconceived ideas, controlling forces, and grand aspirations from the process and to put yourself at the service of the work. You need to be, as much as possible, an anonymous servant to the art so it will emerge and guide you where it wants to go. Your own natural inclinations and the effects of your experiences will emerge naturally without having to forcefully push them through.

Maybe some acquaintances feel that having an artist in their social group is cool and it improves their social status. In my case, though, I’m pretty sure that my friends don’t really care what I do. I’ve known them a very long time and they’re not that shallow. They just love me – no matter what I do. So they’re free to introduce me as they please – just as long as they’re willing to put up with me talking about my work.


When the creative brain needs a break: an Ode to My Friends

I spent last weekend with my closest friends in a lovely cedar cabin built in the ‘60s by my husband’s grandfather. Nestled in the trees at the foot of beautiful mountains, the cabin is an oasis of peace with magical powers of relaxation. But being there with my besties? It was all about giggles and sharing, and that was exactly what I needed.

You see, for several weeks I had been working with a community group to plan a permanent piece of art only to have it derailed at the last minute by unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. Within 24 hours, I found myself rethinking the whole concept to make it feasible under the new parameters we were given. That meant going to a temporary art installation where we are to involve the 100 teenagers who are part of the community. Basically, it became a creative marathon! Although it all went very well, (and I think we are good to go), by Friday night, I was exhausted.

I needed to escape… and I needed my friends.

I hope your friends are as amazing as mine. They have an uncanny ability to make every occasion feel like both a celebration and the most relaxing thing any of us can be doing at that moment. No matter what the circumstance, these amazing women know how to create an ambiance that makes everyone feel at ease. And for me – who spends my workdays making decisions and leading projects almost always by myself – following their lead is truly a blessing.

When I talk to my mom about my friends, (even though she has very few real friends herself), she reminds me how lucky I am to have these witnesses to my life. And I absolutely agree. My friends make me a better person because they are honest, even when it hurts and, because they know me so well, they can bring clarity to every situation in my life. I hope I do the same for them.

With our aging population, researchers are looking into how to stay healthy as long as possible, and not so surprisingly, they’ve discovered that strong friendships become more important the older we get. In the blog titled Why Friends May Be More Important Than Family, the writers mention research in the journal Personal Relationships that explores the findings of studies about relationships. “In the first, involving more than 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries, author William Chopik found that “both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and happiness overall. But at advanced ages, the link remained only for people who reported strong friendships. By that stage of life, those friendships have stood the test of time. You have kept those people around because they have made you happy, or at least contributed to your wellbeing in some way.” says Chopik. “Across our lives, we let the more superficial friendships fade, and we’re left with the really influential ones.”

Saturday afternoon view

Of course you can also be besties with your husband and your sister, but friendships seem to come together magically and I’m not entirely sure how we chose one another. But I can promise we’ve never been as cold-blooded with one another as this BBC Future story blog suggests in How and Why Do We Pick Our Friends  “Friendships might serve as a strategic mechanism for maintaining a support system in advance of potential future conflicts. Human conflicts are usually decided by the number of supporters mobilized on each side (rather than strength or agility). So perhaps friendship only seems to be a riddle because if we were explicit about the transactional nature of our alliances, their strength would falter. In other words, we might like to make grand claims that friendships are without an agenda, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the case.”

Well, as they say, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’

I can guarantee that the only kinds of war my friends and I could team up to win would involves who-giggles-the-most. And yes there was a time not so long ago when we might have won the who-can-dance-the-longest contest. All I know for sure is that, once in a while, life puts someone on my path with a few shared interests and with whom things feel easy and transparent. If I’m very lucky and can be around them long enough, a friendship might form. And for each of those friendships, I’m grateful.