Rather, I phrased it as “I’ve been doing some painting.”
Then I met a stranger, someone who knew nothing about me. The first thing they said, before they even asked my name, was “Are you an artist?” Without thinking I blurted, “I am now.”
As the words left my lips, somewhere deep inside myself a tightly-corked bottle wrapped in layers of Styrofoam and pink fiberglass insulation shattered and a million butterflies flew out.
“I am an artist.”
In announcing this to the stranger, I revealed it to myself.
It was the first time I had allowed myself to think that creating art was not merely something I was doing.
It is who I am.
I paint alone at night. The energy of the sleeping world all around me produces a velvet hum I can feel tingling on my forearms. Sometimes I paint to music; other times I just listen to the darkness.
I spend vastly more time looking at and thinking about what I have just created than I spend actually creating it. Moonbeam meanderings of imagination that transport me to other places, other ways of existing.
In these nocturnal examinings, I discover feelings I hadn’t known existed. Follow trails in my mind that open up into limitless quartz studded caverns. Thoughts and emotions unfold and unravel and stretch, reconfiguring into new shapes that collide with the shapes on the canvas setting off subterranean explosions of insight and sensation.
It is at these times when I am painting that I fall in love with what I create.
When at last I decide to stop for the night and lay my head down to sleep I dream electric.
Sometimes the glow stays with me, and I wake to a world that looks as if it were created anew. As if everything I see was invented for my pleasure. These are days where I am in a very good place.
And then there are less delightful days where rusted and rotting thinking creeps in, sending necrotic tentacles down my spine. I am visited upon by old, unwelcome ruminations. Ones I thought I had dissolved with turpentine and flushed out with ozone.
These are the days where I struggle.
Days where I do not dare to call myself an artist.
In the past, these dark days would consume me. Try to trick me into crawling back inside my cage.
“You are kidding yourself to think that you could do this. Your paintings are worthless. You are worthless.”
The echoes would grow louder and larger until they filled my mind.
It was only through bone-cracking force of will that I was able to beat them back.
The interchange with the stranger changed everything.
In stating that I was in fact an artist with such uninhibited boldness and spontaneous joy, I heard myself speak with a level of confidence and conviction I didn’t know I had.
The part of me that hesitates and stifles, yet desperately wants to break free, was finally able to HEAR it.
It gave me the strength to accept what I already knew but hadn’t been able to believe.
I still have days where I struggle, where I doubt, where I have to fight and claw to keep from sliding into the valley of despair.
But I hold on.
And keep creating.
Because I am an artist.
And that’s what artists do.