Novelist James Scott Bell calls writers “The Fellowship of the Weird.” Cecil Murphey, co-author of the popular 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death, shares in his recent newsletter, “Because I like who I am, I like being alone with myself” (after he explains his struggle with loneliness).
Run a Google search on “artists are weird” or “artists are misunderstood,” or my favorite, “artists are crazy,” and you’ll get millions of results.
I posed a question on my Facebook page asking, “If you’re an artist, do you feel lonely or misunderstood around non-artists?” The overall answer was yes (mostly the misunderstood part). But where does that leave the non-artist?
I’d love to close the gap of misunderstanding between what we call creatives and non-creatives, artists and non-artists. No doubt there are predominantly right-brained people (creative/imaginative) and left-brained (analytical/logical). And everyone else falls somewhere in the middle. But we all have the ability to create and express in one form or another.
What Makes an Artist? What Does Not?
Clearly the traditional arts do come naturally to some. That tends to be a differentiator our culture uses between creative and non-creative people. But the essence of art, and the artist himself, is something more universal. He bears no painted line separating his tribe from a less creative one. The artist heralds each person’s God-given potential. He sees the blend of color.
Your music. Your drawings. Your writing. Your computer programming. Your dancing. Your acting. Your speaking. Your crafting. Your photography. Your designing. Your parenting. Your athleticism. Your lemonade stand business idea. All of these are art, if it is your passion. It is your gifted way of interpreting the world around you, and your expression thereof.
For years I was the dorky grade school kid with coke-bottle glasses, daydreaming out the window, doodling in my notebook, mumbling strange noises in class. I loved music, played the clarinet, found solace in libraries, wrote poetry.
But I also played sports, wrestled with my Dad, ran through the woods behind our neighborhood with friends, hunted and fished, and as a teenager traded in my glasses and quirks for contact lenses and chasing girls. So which is the artist? Which is not?
I’ve always been comfortable being alone, but I also enjoy being around people. Sometimes I just watch. Other times I engage.
I create better in solitude, but being out in the world fills my knapsack with ideas and experiences that I can then use to piece together a mosaic of words. To not simply observe life—but to feel it. And then to express it.
Experience. Express. Respond.
Consider the following characteristics of the artist.
1. The artist experiences life
2. The artist expresses life
3. The artist responds to life (including the responses of others toward his expression)
And the artist repeats.
If you don’t call yourself an artist, or if this all sounds like nonsense, try this. In each characteristic above, replace “The artist” with your first name.
Do you experience life? Of course you do.
How do you express yourself? When you’re at home? When you’re at work? In your free time? With your family? Your friends? With complete strangers? When you’re alone? What is your outlet? Even a monolith expresses itself, though rather monolithically.
And how do you respond to life? When the good times come? When the good times go? When others criticize you? When others praise you?
How has life changed you? How has it shaped what you give, and how you give it? Have you grown? Improved? Found deeper meaning? Excelled at your craft or vocation?
Artists and non-artists really aren’t that different. Maybe there is no such thing as a non-artist. We are all artists. We are all people with a purpose, hewed by our experiences. Evidenced by our expressions. Transcended by our responses.
And the artist repeats.
Featured image by Van Gogh, one of his many self portraits.