I loved school and I believed in school, so I got myself accepted to university and started my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I thought courses and a diploma and those letters, BFA, after my name would make me an artist.
I thought being an artist came from outside. Like being knighted. I dub thee ‘Artist’. One of my art teachers would surely tell me, ‘’Cat, you are an artist.’’
All through that year, I hoped someone would see me, the artist me. I didn’t say it out loud, or whisper it. I never wrote it down on paper or the covers of my sketch books or a bathroom wall. Tell me I’m an artist.
I was so desperate for this, it must surely have been printed across my face. It must have leapt out of every piece of art I created (both the amazing and the dreadful) and every essay I wrote.
It didn’t happen. No one said these magic words.
I left the Fine Arts Department after that first year. I got my diploma in Business Administration instead, and went to work for the government.
Yes, go ahead and laugh.
No one told me, and I didn’t understand, I had to tell myself I was an artist. It had to come from inside me, and not from my head. It had to come from my heart.
I am an artist. From my heart. Not words. Feelings. A knowing that is like loving someone all the way through.
Art comes from love. Creativity, creation. All from love.
Maybe my art teachers didn’t feel they needed to explain this. Maybe they thought I already knew, since there I was, in their class, eagerly eating up all they said, creating all and more that they asked of me, lit up with creative ideas. Maybe some of my art teachers didn’t know this, either.
Artist. I know this now, so many years later. This knowing, that is like loving, eventually soaked all the way through me. Rain on thirsty ground. I left my government job. I went back to art school. This time, I knew I was an artist before I walked into my first class.
You who teach and coach in the arts, for love of art, I am asking through all these words:
Teach more than technique and strategy. Teach love and belief and faith and knowing. Talk to the hearts of your students. Let them feel how knowing they are artists comes from inside them. Show them that’s how you know who you are. Show them it feels like love, and that it is love. Love for themselves, who they are and who they are becoming. Love for their ideas and the art they create, whether it’s amazing or dreadful.
Show them this, and they will name themselves.
I am an artist.