Identifying as an artist

While I served drinks for a show opening at my sister’s gallery, a guest asked me if I, too, was an artist, as my sister and her partner are. Caught off guard by this question, I was unsure how to respond—I have never thought of myself as an artist nor identified as one, yet I wondered, what am I if not an artist? 

Having had the fortune to hold many different titles during my youth, I never felt attached to one single identity: I was not an athlete, I was not a musician, and I was not an artist. I was a collection of all these things; pieces mixed together to create someone with a layered self.

Further exploring these passions, the uniting thread of my existence became apparent: Music, in all its forms. Through playing various instruments, curating playlists, and spending every waking hour listening to as much as possible, my life is bound by the rhythms and poetry found in the music I consume and create. Some of my closest friendships came through being in a band. These friends encouraged me to ceaselessly push myself as an artist and unconsciously continue to inspire me from their new lives across the world, from the military in South Korea and at university in Vancouver. Although on my own I feel mediocre as a musician, the energy I feel from creating with others and supporting the artistic abilities of my friends drives my individual passion.

There are a lot of people who influence me through various art forms—my sister included—but when I think specifically of individuals who, in all their being, are artists, I think of Prince and Yoko Ono. 

For Prince, music was a way of living rather than something to do. He made a home for himself at his Paisley Park palace with everything he needed: A space to record, film, perform, host, and constantly create. His identity was not singular and often controversial— taking form in his name change to the Love Symbol—but the freedom from fighting to make everything he dreamed has transcended these connotations.

For Ono, her life encapsulates art through performance, instructions, film, sculpture, music, and a lot of nonsense. She unapologetically creates from her heart and her mind, out of love and peace. By many, she is known not for her art but for her marriage to John Lennon,with whom she collaborated extensively, yet on her own she has created a life of work which is unparalleled. Particularly, her contributions to the equally misunderstood Fluxus anti-art movement in the ‘60s that illustrate and speak for her artistic vocation. Some of her most formative and influential works of this period are her instruction pieces, primarily collected in her book Grapefruit. From the first time I read her pieces in the copy my sister passed on to me, the way I observed the world shifted. Ono’s mind is unconventional and compelling, and everytime I feel lost or unsure of myself, I turn back to her words. She reminds me to appreciate the Earth, to not be too serious, and to dream.

My sister told me that, to her, an artist is somebody who creates something every day. For me, I am an artist in the way that I think. Through writing, observing, photographing, skateboarding, and making music, I consciously strive to create. I make an effort to record my thoughts and ideas as often as possible in my journal, phone notes, and recently, on my typewriter. I attached my point and shoot camera to my apartment key as an effort to mindfully turn my observations into film photographs every time I leave my home. Everybody can choose to create in their own ways, whether that decision is deliberate or not. Everybody can choose to be an artist. To be an artist is to manifest dreams.

Still, I personally find the title of ‘artist’ daunting. After pausing to think about this stranger’s perplexing question, I simply laughed and said I wasn’t sure exactly what I was, and continued to pour his glass of wine. 

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