The Artist in Three Parts

Like a GhostYou don’t typically hear an engineer say, “I hold a few patents on code I’ve written, therefore I am an engineer,” or an architect say, “I designed the bank on the corner, therefore I am an architect,” or a doctor say, “I save lives every day, therefore I am a doctor.” So why when writers attempt to tell others what it is that they do, they wind up trying to defend their art as if to prove that it’s legitimate?

Today is Part Two of my unique writer behaviors. (See Part One here.)

Engineers, architects, and doctors don’t justify their work the way artists do, and one reason for that is that we know what they do, generally speaking. Creative writers are artists, by contrast, and artists do all sorts of things in the name of art.

In meeting an artist, be prepared to ask what it is that they do, and the artist, likewise, should be prepared to explain their work, quickly and concisely. It looks and acts a lot like defending your art, which is tiresome, but very necessary. We all know people, unfortunately, who talk endlessly about being artists and never actually make any art. That’s what artists are up against here, a bad rap from talkers, and the non-artists’ need to understand what we do. We have to explain ourselves.

I love the cliché Follow the Money. Creative writers, and perhaps all creative artists rely on sales of their art to support themselves. And until said art reaps a following and decent sales, the artist typically needs to have a side job to help pay the bills—though this side job is not one that artists use to define themselves. I remember when I lived in Washington, D.C., the first question asked when meeting someone new was, “So, what do you do?” because in that networking town, what you did defined who you were.

Being an artist is not as easy as saying you belong to an organization or that you work for so-and-so. If artists are fortunate enough to have commercial space to do their work, the buildings themselves are not paying the artists to work. It’s not like saying, “I work at the mill,” which implies that the mill is paying you. The non-artist world relies on these kinds of details, the kind of work that you do and the company you do it for, to ground them and give them reference points. In meeting someone new, writers and artists have to be ready to give an example of a place that sells or showcases their art, and if there aren’t any, they can say they’re up-and-coming, in progress, or that they’re focusing on the work right now before unveiling it to the public. The artist needs to have a plan. Tough as it can be for writers and artists to explain themselves to new people, especially to new people who don’t want to hear it, every chance encounter has the possibility of finding a new reader or appreciator of art.

Writers in particular need justification by being read, being heard of, having a fan base, having a publisher. Like a ghost, someone needs to believe in you. If you believe in you, you’re off to a very good start.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

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