Last year, I realized something that changed the way I look at myself and my writing.
I am an artist.
Over the course of my writing career, I’ve called myself many things: journalist, essayist, columnist, editor, reporter, researcher. (I’ve also called myself other names at times, like stubborn, stupid, crazy, and masochist – especially when I’ve struggled to meet writing deadlines.) When I began writing fiction a few years ago, I added the descriptors of novelist, author, plot architect, and starry-eyed dreamer.
Not in a million years.
For me, ‘art’ always referred to visual or performance genres. Art is the domain of my sister when she paints beautiful marsh landscapes in oils on canvas. Art is my daughter bringing a character to life on the stage, or playing haunting melodies on a flute or piano, or throwing clay on a wheel to transform it into a smoothly shaped bowl. Art is the creation of something new and tangible, and though I produced countless pages of words, I just never felt it rated as ‘art.’ I didn’t use paints, or clay, or costumes or musical instruments; my tool was a word processor, and my product was all in my head. And, with any luck, the heads of my readers.
Galley material, yes, but gallery worthy?
Not even close.
As far as I was concerned, writing was simple information management – collecting information, fitting it together (coherently, hopefully), and passing it on to readers. Whether it was just reporting the facts or organizing disparate information into a mystery novel, it was all about language skills and communication. Not Art with a capital “A.”
But then one day I was helping my daughter fill out a personality inventory, and I came across a section that listed occupations. I looked for the usual category of ‘Writer,’ but couldn’t find it in any of the traditional places I expected to see it. Instead, it was lumped under the category of “Art.”
The longer I thought about that label, the more I realized that what I do when I write truly is Art. Like any painter or musician or sculptor or actor, I look at the world around me and then translate my own experience of it into a new form, a personal, one-of-a-kind articulation of what is, or might be. I have a vision of life that ‘colors’ my representation and allows me to penetrate the surface of what I see to get at the heart of what lies beneath. Maybe my lens of choice is humor, or inspiration, or romance, or fantasy, but whatever it is, it helps me bring a freshness to my subject that is the essence of artistic endeavor.
I create with words, and not only is it my calling, but my sacred trust.
And now that I understand it that way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m an artist. After all, my Father is too, you know.
Do you consider yourself an artist?