Am I still a professional artist if I haven't made art in a while?
Alternatively, a more fitting title for this post would be
"Imposter syndrome, how to get away from the grips of capitalist pressures, form your identity around your passions, and not succumb to productivity guilt during a global pandemic."
But according to my blog site that is too long.
I have always struggled with identifying as a professional artist, especially when I first left my full-time job, during the beginning I only really started referring to myself as a professional artist because my husband would tell me off if I said something along the dismissive lines of "well I am not working right now but I am focusing on my paintings." He encourages me to value my work as I would any other job, and I feel really grateful for that push. Over the years I have become a lot more comfortable with this title but occasionally I still completely feel like a fraud waiting to be called out. Sometimes I feel like an imposter.
First things first, what is imposter syndrome?
According to Very Well Mind, they define imposter syndrome as "an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context."
Why do I feel like an imposter?
Why would I not consider myself a professional artist? What even makes an artist "professional"? Is it education? Or selling work? Maybe it depends on how long you have been creating art? If people buy my paintings, I have a degree in art, I have been painting my whole life, and I genuinely believe I am a pretty good artist... Does that make me a professional? If I have all those things why do I invalidate my art career?
This is not to say that to be an artist you have to have a degree, paint your whole life, or even be "good" at your craft. I put "good" in quotations because it is a matter of opinion. In my opinion, I generally like the paintings I create and think they are beautiful. Some people may find you good and others may hate our work, either way, it doesn't actually matter because it's all relative. Someone can also create for a short amount of time and be an artist. These things are just some of the things I look back on to remind myself that I know what I am doing and I have the skill, passion, and knowledge to keep going regardless of how I gained that skill, passion, and knowledge.
As a side note, I also want to make it incredibly clear you do not have to go to art school to be a professional artist. Many of my favourite artists are self-taught, and even though I went to University for art I often feel self-taught. Though I have a degree in art, I went to a liberal arts university where I studied many other subjects and all forms of art, and though I appreciate the well-rounded education I received... Anything I use now in my practice I did not learn from university and I was only able to take two painting classes the entire time I was in school, I did not learn how to paint skin tones or figurative painting at University. Honestly, if I could go back in time I would have saved the money and found a cabin in the woods and just painted my heart out for as long as I could. But I suppose all of that is for another blog post...
Thank you for coming to my ted talk now back to our original topic...
Why do I feel like an imposter?
C A P I T A L I S M.
How does capitalism lead to having a hard time calling myself a professional artist?
Well, we are all raised to be good little worker bees and told that if we are not constantly producing, then we are not as valued within society and this leads to the well-documented issues of people equating our worth to our productivity. Internalized capitalism or productivity guilt runs incredibly deep within our society. It also shows up in sneaky ways like undervaluing your accomplishments.
We see this when people can't value themselves or other people for simply being human and only equate their worth to their productivity. People only deserve things depending on how much or what they produce.
This is very commonly seen within all intersections of society but very clearly within class and ableist issues. Examples I commonly see are people saying poor people shouldn't be spending their money on what they may deem as "luxury items" like a smartphone or steak when they are on food stamps or some kind of income support. Another common bullshit I have seen is people complaining about disabled people not having jobs and being "freeloaders", especially people who are on some form of government assistance. I have even been accused of this by my own family because my husband has been our main income while I have spent time managing my disability and selling paintings, which sure is weird when I got a degree in art yet seem confused about me being a professional artist. We also see this in typical hustle or grind culture. I feel like everyone has met at least one person who brags about their 60 hour work week and how that somehow makes them superior to everyone else. I don't know how far humanity has to stray from our roots to brag about selling every waking minute you have to some company that would replace you in an instant but here we are.
This brings me to my main question.
Are you a professional artist if you are not making consistent money?
Sure I sell paintings and I have done many commissions over the years, so why doesn't it feel real? Is there a specific amount that will make me feel legit? If so what is it? 10k a year? 20k a year? 100k? Is there a magic number?
What actually defines professionalism? Is it within the practice, or the income, or what? You can work for 40 hours a week on your art but your income varies. Does the amount of money you make somehow invalidate the number of hours you put into your work?
Do we consider the artists we obsess over now and deem as some of the most influential artists of all time as amateurs because they weren't selling consistently enough? Does that invalidate them from being a professional artist? Van Gogh is rumoured to have only sold only one painting in his lifetime. His uncle also bought his paintings to support him. He also traded art for other things. By today's standards, would he be told "to go get a real job" or called a freeloader?
What if we look at this argument through the lens of another job, like running a new restaurant. If you are not breaking even or you are starting to make some money but you aren't quite there yet, does that invalidate your business or make it unprofessional? I have never even heard that criticism before and honestly it feels ridiculous to even type out, yet I constantly hear that being an artist isn't a real job and unless you are making a good living then it should just be a hobby, but in the same breath people tell people to make their creative hobbies "side hustles" constantly. Please make it make sense because the hypocrisy is LOUD.
In today's culture, we are often gaslit into thinking if we are not making the money we want or as far in our career as we wish we could be we are told it's because we are lazy and not trying hard enough or not "wanting" it enough. Like how it's a moral failing if we don't "make it". You see this within hustle culture like a poison they are trying to tell others just to convince themselves. In the words of Kim Kardashian "get your f**king ass up and work,” and that “it seems like nobody wants to work these days.” Do you really think the top 1% is working harder than a single mom of three juggling 3 jobs and barely getting by? Are they working more than the average person even? Absolutely not.
Society deems not being constantly productive as lazy. The term "lazy" is one of the worst words to exist, in my opinion. It rips away people's confidence, destroys futures and self-worth, and to make it even worst the concept of being lazy, isn't even real. There is no such thing as laziness. People use the term lazy to stab someone in the back for not being a good enough worker bee, and often that person will then internalize it. People who are called lazy are often exploited, burned out, and told not to trust their own feelings and needs when they need a break. Did you know that it can take between one and three years to recover from burnout? Is that person lazy or are they burnt out or struggling with executive dysfunction paralysis? Or are they depressed? The list goes on.
According to Dr Devon Price, a social psychologist and the author of the book "Laziness does not exist. "'Laziness is usually a warning sign from our bodies and our minds that something is not working,' he says. 'The human body is so incredible at signalling when it needs something. But we have all learned to ignore those signals as much as possible because they're a threat to our productivity and our focus at work.'"
Well, I know what is being added to my book list. If you have already read "Laziness does not exist" Please let me know your thoughts!
So why haven't I been making much art recently?
When the pandemic hit and as the stay-home orders were set in this feeling of anxiety set in on many of us. I am not talking about the inevitable pandemic anxiety of fear and worry for ourselves, our communities, and our loved ones. I am talking about the anxiety of "What the hell do I do with myself now? I need to be doing stuff and I need to be productive!" This was during the time we all should have slowed down and taken the time to enjoy the simple joys throughout our days. God forbid we read books and watch films and enjoy the things we never seem to have the time to enjoy in our "regular" lives. Or not even pursue other hobbies or joys, maybe we spent the entire pandemic (which is still happening by the way) solely surviving.
At the beginning of the pandemic we were slammed by people and influencers on social media and the try-hards of the world to learn a new language, write a book, do intensive DIY projects, join some kind of side hustle or pyramid scheme, and if you aren't waking up at 5 am to be "That Girl" and working out extensively during this time then you are SLACKING. Use this time to become a new and improved version of yourself! I remember the guilt during this time so intensely. How can I be productive when I am high risk and honestly just completely overwhelmed and stressed? I felt the nagging of society and the pressure from the voice in my head that was passed down to me that values workaholicism and anything else is lazy or not as worthy. Sometimes "wasting time" is also productive. I know that when I am constantly pushing art out my best ideas are often not given time to properly develop.
I also found the pressure to keep up with social media bullshit of POST EVERY SINGLE DAY OR PEOPLE WILL FORGET YOU EXIST incredibly taxing. The number of people I saw telling me to post 3 times a day for my art TikTok was so frustrating. How the hell is that realistic? How can I create when I spend all my time on social media? How can I make organic and authentic art when I am being held to create and produce quality posts for social media multiple times a day. Who has time to paint, film, edit, and photograph something new every single day? People expect artists to produce and create at ridiculous rates and I am sick of the pressure! You cannot rush art and creativity. Historically artists have spent significantly longer on paintings. Can you imagine some spending a whole year or a few years on a single painting, people would unfollow them. Also to be perfectly honest when thousands of people were losing their jobs, dying, and fighting for social justice posting on social media just felt incredible trivial.
And then there is the other side of social media which has really gotten to me over the past few years. The censorship of artists has made my life incredibly difficult. It feels so incredibly disheartening to work so hard on a TikTok or a photo for it to be immediately removed for nudity. Though all social media platforms allow nudity within art they will ALL (Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok) remove your posts for nudity and sexual activity. Even my paintings of a back will get removed. Yet they have no problem keeping up posts full of white supremacy, bullying, and other horrendous posts online no problem. Even when you censor the art or clearly write "THIS IS A PAINTING" on the post they are still removed. And when do you appeal the decision? Nothing happens. All of my social media accounts are at the risk of being deleted permanently. Due to this censorship, I joined other artists and art museums and joined Only Fans so I can have places other than my website where my paintings will not be removed.
Click here if you want to give my Only Fans a follow!
I will write a separate blog just for this issue but it is a huge reason why I haven't posted as often. Even when I try to post they all get removed anyway. This added work stress just seems to be multiplied by the wedding, moving, health, family, and overall pandemic stress and anxiety.
During the peak of the pandemic, I ended up very much in the "I am just gonna survive this and that's good enough for me even if sometimes I feel like surviving a global pandemic is not enough" end of things. I planned a wedding and got married over the pandemic, bought a house after attempting for two years, moved to a new city, got covid, had some health problems, was diagnosed with ADHD, and did a lot of unlearning and relearning things in my life. I also was very isolated during this time due to being far from friends and being high risk. I can count the number of times I saw people during the first year. I did more self-discovery within the past 3 years than I have done in my entire life. I feel like pre-pandemic me and current me are two completely different people. The past few years haven't been easy by any means but they have been the most influential years of my life.
I am a chronically ill and neurodivergent disabled artist and I haven't been creating as much as I often want to but I am working on my own productivity guilt especially as I have been paired with being raised with a workaholic mentality. The pandemic made me realize how much guilt I feel and equate my self-worth with capitalist ideals. I can't force my creativity and with pressures of my own personal health over the last few years as much as art is my passion I couldn't force myself to paint a lot of the time. The pandemic is also how I discovered my undiagnosed ADHD, all of the coping mechanisms I used before the pandemic weren't available to me anymore. I also had access to people sharing their ADHD lives and stories through TikTok and seeing myself within those which truly changed my life.
My health has had ups and downs over the past few years but my health has become significantly better recently and can only see it going up from here. I am happy to be back writing and creating and am looking forward to creating many new paintings in the near future.
I also completely recognise despite being disabled and unable to work like an able-bodied person and struggling with my health in the past few years, the privilege I have of being able to financially survive during this pandemic with me not working as much temporarily.
So the question is, am I still a professional artist if I haven't made art in a while?
Just because I am unable to keep up with current unrealistic capitalistic pressure and rules doesn't make me less of an artist. There is always more you can do and more you can post and share and create. Capitalism would make us never be able to rest if it had the option to, and taking a break from creativity is absolutely necessary to create good art. In fact, I often get my best ideas after a break. I would also like to mention that we are still in a pandemic and life is still super hard, it isn't over yet.
These capitalist and hustle culture "rules" and pressures are new but artists have been here forever. To say someone isn't a professional artist because of made-up rules of over-productivity and hustle culture is ridiculous. Sorry, Frida Khalo, uhm you didn't sell many paintings during your lifetime... I guess you weren't a professional artist. Can you imagine?
Overall my advice is this... Be kind to yourself. Part of why I am writing this is as a reminder to myself too!
Western Society is often against creatives or just taking a break from something in general, and you are valid whether you are painting every day or every few months. Especially during a global pandemic. Honestly, I think if you have done anything other than just survive over the past few years that should be celebrated. Just to survive should be celebrated.
Now you may not be able to actually get away from the pressures of capitalism but you can limit the blows to your self-esteem and self-worth you don't have to internalise capitalism and feel productivity guilt. This isn't easy as it is our society and how we were raised but it is possible to rip the toxic roots out of our souls and unlearn the ways we mistreat ourselves and belittle ourselves. Read books, talk to other people, and challenge the norm that we are all here just to produce and consume instead of live, create, and feed our souls and curiosities. When you find yourself having toxic thoughts, remind yourself that taking a break is valid and necessary for creatives. We are human beings, not robots.
If you managed to get to the end of my rambled brain vomit go get yourself a cookie and give yourself a pat on the back. This honestly felt more like a personal journaling entry than a blog post for my website, but something I have really learned in the past year from TikTok is that I have never had a unique experience, so if I feel this way I am sure other people do as well.
I hope you have a lovely rest of your day!