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What Makes Me an Artist?

To me, art is too far-reaching in my life to label it as a career. It's not smaller than a career, but rather, it's bigger.

green abstract painting by Nicole Javorsky
One of my abstract paintings, "Horizon"

Hello my dearest doodle soupers!

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an artist. The typical signifiers of an art career (gallery shows, having a studio space that's not where you live, awards, press coverage, etc.) are related to being artist, but are distinct and separate from the simple act of making art.

I like to hang up some of my newer pieces around my apartment. It helps me reflect on my art. And it’s a reminder that I’m doing this! Even when I’m occupied with other commitments that pay the bills or when I'm too tired to set up my space to paint, I’m still an artist.

And when I'm feeling especially wise, I know that I enjoy working in different settings, participating in new environments. For example, in the past couple of years I've gotten to work as a journalist, work in gym sales, tutor, canvassing, teach art, cat sit, etc. Sometimes, I feel a pressure to act like this is just the prequel to some clear next-step. And it's not.

I have days when I'm tired and frustrated, of course. Yet, the bigger picture is I enjoy this life. Art-making is a priority in my life. I still sleep. I still eat. And work other jobs. And yet, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m an artist. I'm an artist when I'm selling gym memberships. I was an artist when I was writing about COVID-19 in NYC as a journalist. When I back up and take a long look at the bigger picture, working is simply a common aspect of living. Even the hunter-gatherers had to hunt and gather to live. And if working is simply a part of living in this world most of the time, why wouldn't it be a valuable part of being an artist?

To me, art is too far-reaching in my life to label it as a career. It's not smaller than a career, but rather, it's bigger. To me, making art is about knowing that creating meaningful things is just as valuable as creating things for a particular use like food or a bed.

I think that many of us artists are so used to being told or implicitly being told that art is fluff, less important, less practical, less valuable, etc. I've felt the need to justify the point of making art and sometimes, that leads to an urge to devalue other kinds of work. But really, I think this all is good and important. There are so many ways to live and as long as we know we are alive, get to act from a soulful place as opposed to fear, I don't think there is one right way, one purpose to living. I believe the purpose of life is just to live.

For example, the other day, I felt overheated and frustrated while waiting for the subway after a full day working. But then I looked up and noticed the light and shadow making patterns on the ceiling. And in that moment, my awe and wonder dwarfed the other feelings that dominated me the moment prior. It wasn’t one of the more fancy subway stations either, but when I saw the beautiful patterns created by ordinary light and shadow, I guess I remembered that I am here living, seeing, creating, wondering and imagining. Seeing is a part of how I make art. And without living this one precious life, how could I be making art anyway?

It doesn't really matter very much that I couldn't run home and make a painting immediately that day. I trust that everything I experience informs my art. And I trust that there is more worth to my life and being who I am than what I produce.

So maybe how many hours I get to spend paintbrush in hand is besides the point. I think that being an artist means orienting my mindset and experience of life toward beauty, meaning, exploration, openness, curiosity, and vulnerability.

Yours with open eyes, open ears, and an open heart,

Nicole Sylvia Javorsky


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