Are You a Real Artist?

Identity is an interesting thing.

We derive Identity in a variety of ways, and many of us feel like we have several competing identities.

If you go to my Instagram profile and looks at my bio one of the first things you’ll see is Artist. People who Identify as artists often struggle with anxiety around Identity, so I’m going to share how I think about it in an effort to get you out of your own head, and get you doing what it takes to actually the the artist you claim to be.

Identity Issues

There’s a ton of things artists worry about concerning Identity, I’ll cover just a few:

  • I am so creative and do so many things, how can I outwardly Identify myself in a way that people will understand?
  • Why don’t people take me seriously as an artist?
  • Am I even a real artist or am I just faking it?

Those are some pretty common things that come up so we’ll talk about those. I think that will give you most of the perspective you need but if there’s something else you wanna talk about there’s comments below and other ways to reach me.

OK so I don’t want this to feel like school… however, we do need to start with a definition for Identity, here are several.

  • the distinguishing character* or personality of an individual 
  • the relation established by psychological identification
  • the condition of being the same with something described or asserted
  • sameness of essential or generic character in different instances
  • sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing

I then want to hone in on bullet #2 “the relation established by psychological identification” and look at another definition, this time for identification.

Identification - a largely unconscious process whereby an individual models thoughts, feelings, and actions after those attributed to an object that has been incorporated as a mental image.

Identity is a psychological construct that largely happens unconsciously, this is in my opinion where a lot of the issues for artists arise.

You see, because this process of identification so unconscious, for many of us we end up with these questions surrounding our identity that plague us.

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How can I outwardly Identify myself in a way that people will understand? 

The issue with this question is that it makes an incorrect assumption about identity.  Being worried about how to reconcile the fact that you do a lot of things is more of a branding issue, and in this age of social media people can often confuse their Identity with their brand.

What is brand?

a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer; a characteristic* or distinctive kind

I think the confusion comes because we confuse characteristics (brand) with character (identity).

You have character, you are not a characteristic, and you are certainly not a class of goods (although you may produce a class of goods).

Artists are by nature (and really by virtue of how much effort they put into it) very attached to their work.

But it is a mistake to Identify with your work!

A true artist cannot afford to identify with their art because that so often leads to a crippling downward spiral of depression that takes God knows how long to get out of and when you do finally break out you feel terrible that it stopped you from making art!

If you Identify to closely with you work then this happens:

  • people don’t like/respect my art - People don’t like/respect me
  • I don’t like my art - I don’t like myself
  • I’m not able to produce art - I don’t feel like I truly exist or that life is worth living

OK I got supper depressing on the last one, but you get the point. Identifying with your work is over romanticized. It sounds nice but in reality when you think about it it’s actually pretty unhealthy. I used hyperbole to illustrate the concept, but so many artists find themselves feeling like people don’t like or respect them, or not respecting themselves and their well being, and many times it is because we have unconsciously made mistakes with identification.

So when thinking about the outward, about the product, about the Brand remember you are not limited to just the outward things you are able to easily display to the masses, and that you don’t have to identify yourself with just those things. Remember that Identity is the sameness of essential or generic character in different instances. 

Your Identity is that same energy that runs through everything that you create, you don’t have to think about it much, you just have to get to know yourself and just be yourself and overtime that Identity will reveal itself to you.

That’s all great but…

I still have the issue of sometimes people not taking my art seriously or feeling like an impostor.

If that’s you I have good and bad news.

Good news -  the solution is simple.

Bad news - the solution is difficult.

The solution is to truly understand your power and use it consistently.

Yes Identification is a largely unconscious process but it doesn’t have to be.

You have the power to be the observer of yourself, and create an identity for yourself and embody that Identity.

For the majority of us, we cannot, or at least do not allow ourselves to do things, that are outside of our perceived identities. This means that you limit your creative potential by not ascribing the correct identity to yourself. 

But the beautiful thing is we have a level of control over ourselves, and if we are able to change how we see ourselves not only does that allow you to do your work without the doubt crippling you, but it also will free you from being concerned about the perception of others.

The True Identity of an Artist

An artist is one constantly changing, with every new piece you seek to destroy the artist you were before in favor of a new and better one, more able to express their truth.  This is an identity that is centered around the making of art, not the result, but the process a process that continues and benefits you for your whole life.

Through this lens you need not concern yourself if others take you seriously because your focus is not on the art produced or how others view the art. The focus is on getting better at making art, that’s it.

That also sounds nice but it’s a lifelong commitment that mean work that you have to continue to do UNTIL YOU DIE

That could seem like a daunting process, and something that is too intense to identify with, but you can do it… simply by working, then working more. The more you work you do the more you will reaffirm your identity to yourself.

And through that process you will begin to embody that identity, and it won’t seem so daunting.


But that’s just how I look at things based on my experiences you can feel free to flagrantly disagree with me in the comments or my dm’s.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

-Jamal

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