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On Self-Definition and Inspirational Ruts

My defining characteristic is that I am an artist. I’ve been singing since elementary school, I’ve dabbled in clay and watercolors and pastels and needlework, I write all the time, and I am known pretty much wherever I am known as “the photographer girl.” (Or “the one with the pretty Instagram.”) My ideal day involves hot chocolate in downtown Chicago and wandering The Art Institute with my mom. (Even more ideally, this day would be in November, right in that transition space between autumn and winter.) I come from a family of oil painters, photographers, cake decorators, writers, readers, engineers, and graphic designers—creativity is in my blood. My defining characteristic is that art is how I sustain myself—man does not live on bread alone, give me roses as well.  

Another characteristic of mine is that I’m a person, and I’m not at my best all the time. I might not even be at my best most of the time. I get tired, and busy, and sometimes (can you believe it?) even a little bit irritable. Like everyone else, there are days where nothing is more appealing than staying under the covers with a package of Oreos and whichever Netflix Original has my attention for the time being. (I don’t even want to tell you how many episodes of Atypical my roommate and I have watched in the past thirty-six hours.) And on those days, surprising as it may be, creating anything can be kind of hard, especially because when you’re not out doing very much, you’re also not inspired by very much.

It’s one thing to want to be creating something, but not being able to create it for lack of time, or vision, or resources. That can be frustrating, but a lot of the time, it feels out of your control. You can still feel like you’re doing everything you can and it’s just not working out. It’s another thing entirely to catch yourself not in the mood to create. To get to the Her Campus meeting with no pitch in mind, and to sit and think through the whole meeting about what you might write about, and be faced with nothing but the feeling that you don’t really want to write at all this week. Or to show up to the photoshoot with a model who’s enthusiastic and more than ready to be directed, and to not be able to come up with anything other than “I dunno, why don’t you…put your hand on your hip…no, no, nevermind, that looks stupid—do whatever, really. Just be natural or something.”

My defining characteristic is that I am an artist. So what happens when I’m not making art? A pen is defined by its ability to make marks on whatever it’s up against. The pen that can’t leave ink isn’t a very good pen at all, and it gets discarded. And if I’ve decided that my simplest purpose, my most noble pursuit, is to make art, on a day when I don’t feel like making art it’s so easy to feel like I’m not a very good artist at all. The worst part of inspirational dry spells is the feeling that maybe you’ve lost yourself.

Another characteristic of mine is that I’m a person, and I’m not at my best all the time. I have to keep reminding myself of this. I have to keep reminding myself that people are not tools, they aren’t designed to fill just one purpose, and they aren’t expected to consistently be doing the same things at the same level of productivity and quality. It can be really tough a lot of days to remember that even if I went an entire day without drawing or reading or spending time on music, the day wasn’t wasted, and it doesn’t make me any worse at or any less passionate about any of those things. I have to keep reminding myself that maybe being an artist shouldn’t be what defines who I am as a whole. That the love in my life, and my value itself, are not conditional things that can rise and fall just because of how I feel on any given day. Some days it’s an easier lesson than others. That seems to be the way most things are. And hopefully that’s something that I can continue to work on forgiving myself for as I continue to teach myself that an artist isn’t about the content that she creates, and she isn’t only an artist in the moments in which she’s creating. An artist is an artist because of a connection she feels to her own self, and to the pieces of everything that surrounds her, and the beauty and significance she can see in those things both together and on their own. No artist is a machine, and no artist should expect herself to be creative and productive all the time. The beauty of being able to create is that every time it happens it’s unique and new and the product is always incredibly special. So maybe it’s time to even be thankful for my metaphorical inspirational valleys, because they can make reaching my summits all the more worth it.

Image Credit: Writer’s Own, Taken at the The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Annmarie's a sophomore art history major at Kenyon College, and she really really really loves ginger ale and collaborative Spotify playlists, and she's working on being a better listener. For Her Campus, she both writes and is the photographer for the Kenyon chapter, as well as running the Instagram account for the chapter.
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