Anyone reading my bio might think I'm having an identity crisis--"… freelance writer LaFever draws on a corporate background and diverse careers in advertising, marketing, graphic design and fiber art to inform her writing. Also a master's-level licensed psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor…" In my case, it's really more about not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.
But a recent conversation made me stop and think that maybe I do have a bit of an identity crisis. I heard myself telling a jewelry artist I'd just met that I "used to be a fiber artist and now I'm a freelance writer." Wait a minute--I'm still an artist, I just don't happen to be making any art at the moment! I realized that in my mind, my identity had made a shift to "not an artist." It was kind of a surreal moment.
What is "artistic identity"? As an artist, you've probably reinvented yourself numerous times through your work. At some point in your career, though, didn't things kind of come together and you discovered your style, your look, your signature piece?
Most artists who have been at it a while will tell you this usually takes some time. You don't just decide to do art and then see the definitive essence of your work after a few tries--there's lots of trial and error. Many factors come together to help form your artistic uniqueness.
Selling your work
One thing that's helpful to define your artistic identity is when your work starts to sell. There's a reinforcement of who you are as an artist when someone thinks enough of your art to buy it. The customer who buys your pieces is reinforcing that you make art people want to own and this, in turn, begins to shape what you create. But it can also set up a conflict for an artist. If you begin to make only what customers buy, are you allowing them to influence who you are as an artist?
That's only part of it. You start to have a "body of work," which is another way of saying there are themes that make diverse pieces cohesive and recognizable as yours. So a customer/collector's appreciation of your art in some ways reinforces that artistic identity.
Getting off tracks
You want your work to evolve and so you try a new direction. Maybe you are trying different designs or even a new medium. What if, during this process, you find yourself stuck or not liking what you're producing? Might it be that you've moved too far away from your "core"? It could be that the new work isn't "you." Yet you hate to stop the learning and experimentation process in case something will emerge that just extends or reshapes that core.
Some artists have told me that they know instinctively what isn't working for them. It just doesn't feel right or their struggle proves they've made some bad choices. Unfortunately, most artists aren't that lucky.
Rediscovering your path
If you feel like you've strayed too far, how do you find your way back? Here are some suggestions:
1. Get some feedback I think sometimes we're just too close to our own stuff to see it. Ask a trusted friend and/or fellow artist to give you some feedback. It's helpful if they are familiar with your work and know a bit about your creative process.
2. Take a break Take a deep breath, step back and give yourself a break. That will give you a new perspective. You could be having a mini-burnout. Check your stress level--does it need to be addressed? If you're too stressed, you aren't on your game anyway.
3. Go look at someone else's art Hit up a museum or fine craft gallery. Looking at other work and appreciating certain aspects about it might jumpstart something for you.
4. Rework Play with your existing designs and pieces. Could you rework some of them and see what develops?
5. Add a new element This is kind of like reworking, but maybe there's just a missing piece and the overall concept is fine.
6. Don't trash what you've done. Figuratively or literally. There's a part of you in there, even if it isn't obvious at the moment.
7. Trust the process Remember back to when you first started making art? You learned to trust the flow of the process. Maybe this new direction is just something you need to let happen and see where it takes you. I've given some thought to my own artistic identity. Here's what I came up with-I'm an artist whose art is writing...at least for the moment.
Freelance writer Nancy LaFever has published over 150 print and digital magazine articles and hundreds of blog posts on numerous topics, including fine crafts, teens, emotional health, business, humor and popular cultures. She does copywriting and creates Web content for clients in a variety of industry sectors. LaFever draws on her corporate background and diverse careers as an advertising/marketing maven, graphic designer, fiber artist and hair salon receptionist to inform her writing.
A master's-level licensed psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor, Lafever is currently not practicing because after 20 years, she finally got it right. She tries really hard not to do more than one of the above at the same time--it confuses people.
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