I recently performed a solo at church. It wasn’t the first time for a solo, but it was different this time. In times past, the bulletin has always read something like “Special Music by Carrie Lewis.” Yesterday, I opened up the bulletin and saw this.
Carrie Lewis, Vocalist
That’s not a huge difference, but it made me stop and think about what I was doing that morning. Something clicked in my brain and singing became something more than just “something I do on Sunday mornings.”
It wasn’t much of a leap to make the same application to what I do as an artist (or a writer for that matter.)
I’ve been drawing for decades. The oldest drawing I have in my possession is one I drew when I was seven and a half years old, but I know there were others before that. Mom has told me many times about cutting open brown paper grocery sacks so I could draw on them. She’s especially fond of telling about one woodland scene that included such details as tree roots in the ground, and fish in a stream.
(I seem to remember that, but don’t know for sure if that memory is real, or has been planted in my mind by Mom’s description of the drawing.)
For the longest time, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. I just liked to draw. That was all. It was something I did and enjoyed. No big deal, right?
Even after I started doing portraits for pay, I never really gave much thought to how I defined what I was doing. I just did it. The truth is that during most of the time I painted horse portraits, I preferred not to think of myself as an artist or an equine artist. Those terms seemed too “high brow” for what I was doing. After all, I was just painting pictures of horses. It felt more comfortable to call myself a horse painter.
I was in good company in that regard because George Stubbs was known as THE Horse Painter. Not bad footsteps to follow in.
When I started teaching art to others, it took months before I was willing to think of myself as a teacher. I just shared what I knew about painting or drawing in general, or about painting or drawing horses in particular. No big deal.
Now if you look at my website, you’ll see the word “artist” right behind my name. Teacher could also be there, because I am both. An artist and a teacher.
Does it really matter?
You might be wondering what all this has to do with anything. Does it really matter what you call yourself?
The short answer is yes, it does matter what you call yourself. What you call yourself reflects what you think of yourself.
To put it another way, your attitude affects your behavior. I see it this way. If I don’t think of myself as an artist, I can play around with art to my heart’s content and as the whimsey strikes. It’s not a profession, it’s a hobby.
And if I’m not a teacher, I don’t have to be consistent in creating teaching materials. I can answer reader questions as they arise, and work with students when they take a class, but it’s really just another way to share and enjoy my hobby, which is drawing.
Just like singing in the choir is something I do for fun and enjoyment. Another hobby. Changing titles to “artist,” “teacher,” and “vocalist” requires a shift in perception, too.
An ongoing shift in perception because like most artists, I tend to devalue the skills I have and the work I do. (It must be some kind of genetic code thing.) I need to be ever vigilent in keeping my attitude straight, as well as my titles.
I wish I could say that starting to think of myself as a vocalist made me sing better. It didn’t. Nor did starting to think of myself as an artist or teacher make me any better at those two things.
But it did give me a different perspective on those activities, a more professional mindset. And in the long run, that mindset will keep me moving forward in all three areas, improving with every song I sing, every drawing I complete, and every class I teach.
So what about you?
Have you ever stopped to consider how you think about what you do?